Budget 2022 – too much money for religious authorities

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The provision of an extra RM100 million in a RM1.5 billion budget allocation for the management and development of Islam in next year’s budget has raised eyebrows, with critics commenting that it is far too much given religious authorities’ lack of a track record.

“That’s too much money for them,” said former Umno MP Tawfik Ismail in response to the budget speech, adding that just like previous years it remained unclear where all the money would end up being spent and what impact the government intended to have.

“Will the money benefit just those in Jakim (the federal department of Islamic development), or will it filter out to the benefit of the whole country?” he asked.

Finance minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, in presenting the 2022 budget today, said there would be a focus on promoting Islamic teachings, with the religious affairs department of the Prime Minister’s Department getting RM100 million more than it did in 2021.

Tawfik said that in the last year, in particular, religious authorities had not effectively promoted Islam’s more positive values, like compassion, mercy and tolerance.

“In fact, we’ve seen the opposite, in that things have been more oppressive and have negatively impacted national unity.”

“Look at the lack of action against (controversial preacher) Syakir Nasoha, or the unnecessary attention given to Nur Sajat and Timah whisky. It doesn’t instill much confidence that Islamic authorities have promoted Islam’s more positive aspects,” he said.

With religious matters largely under state purview, Tawfik also questioned why the federal authorities need such a large and growing budget.

Johan Ariffin Samad, an analyst and member of the G25 group of former senior civil servants, said that it remained unclear exactly what religious authorities such as Jakim actually do to promote harmony.

“We are seeing as large a religious divide in this country as ever before because the authorities are not doing enough to foster tolerance in this country or improve the relationship among faiths.”

“There are real issues out there, like Muslim single mothers who struggle to get alimony payments, gender equality, intolerance. These are far more important than Islamic development, and yet little that is meaningful is done.

“I would be concerned about (the religious affairs department) having such a large budget, and whether it will be spent wisely on addressing real problems.”