SINGAPORE - The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) has been strengthening safeguards in the governance of madrasahs in recent years, the importance of which has been highlighted by alleged cheating by a former Muis employee.
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli made this point in his response to a parliamentary question from Dr Wan Rizal Wan Zakariah (Jalan Besar GRC) on Tuesday.
Razak Mohamed Lazim, 56, allegedly cheated Temasek Foundation International, a non-profit philanthropic organisation that funds programmes, of nearly $785,000. In March, he was also charged with criminal breach of trust involving $68,629.
Razak, who used to be a senior director for madrasahs at Muis, is a director and shareholder of Irsyad Trust Limited (ITL). He is accused of falsely portraying that ITL was affiliated with Islamic religious school Madrasah Irsyad Zuhri Al-Islamiah.
Mr Masagos said safeguards have been put in place in recent years to strengthen madrasah governance, such as the requirement for the religious schools to submit annual updates on their financial audits to the board of governors and Muis, as well as more frequent staff rotation of their leaders.
Muis has also introduced a whistle-blowing procedure in the madrasah sector for suspected wrongdoing to be reported to the religious council or law enforcement agencies. “This encourages a culture of active feedback from madrasah staff on situations or decisions made by the madrasah leaders,” said Mr Masagos.
He added that Muis is also piloting the implementation of an information technology and data policy manual to strengthen the madrasahs’ governance of their IT and data systems.
“The importance of these measures has been reinforced by the problems discovered at Madrasah Irsyad,” he said.
In a supplementary question, Dr Wan Rizal asked whether the time gap between the alleged wrongdoing and corrective action could have been shortened.
An annual audit in 2016 found that $2 million had been transferred from Madrasah Irsyad to ITL in 2014 for its international operations without the knowledge of the madrasah’s board of governors, even though the transfer was endorsed by the madrasah management committee.
Muis told ITL to return the $2 million to the madrasah, which ITL did.
Mr Masagos said Muis commissioned a further audit in April 2021 to check for further transactions between the madrasah and ITL. Preliminary findings from this audit prompted Muis to make a police report in July 2021, which led to cheating charges being handed to Razak.
Muis will take action whenever an irregularity is detected, whether internally or externally, said Mr Masagos.
It will also carry out regular checks, “even for what seemed to have been settled”, so that there continues to be accountability to the wider community, Mr Masagos added.