By Murray Hunter
New complaints of favoritism and arbitrary termination of halal certification companies have arisen from Europe and Australia in the wake of an Asia Sentinel investigation into irregularities on the part of Singapore’s halal certification body.
The new complaints were sent to the Singapore certification agency even as it issued public denials to Singapore newspapers and television stations. In those denials, Singapore’s Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) sought to refute allegations of questionable practices by Munir Hussain, a top official in the Halal Certification Strategic Unit. The council also on April 25 posted an unsigned statement on the MUIS website and Facebook. The denials were issued to Singapore’s national media.
However, on April 25 – the same day MUIS posted its bid to refute the allegations by individuals who said they had been denied access to lucrative halal certifications by Munir – the agency reportedly received additional complaints addressed directly to the CEO, Esa Han Hsien Masood, and copied to other relevant parties which could include Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and the minister from another two delisted foreign certifying bodies. The complaints are said to deal with unfair delistings without avenues of appeal in addition to allegations of misconduct by MUIS officer Munir, suggesting the problem is much wider than originally reported.
That suggests that MUIS hadn’t undertaken a serious investigation into the allegations nor the complaints of delisted foreign certifying bodies before posting its unsigned rebuttal. That raises additional questions whether MUIS’s rebuttal was posted by the organization’s senior management, or by the Halal Certification Strategic Unit, the unit which employs Munir Hussein.
MUIS claimed that its process of halal certification in Singapore is based on the highest standards of governance, as is expected of the Singapore public service. All processes, it said, are certified via standards set by the International Organization of Standards’ ISO 17065 regime throughout the application, evaluation, certification, and subsequent audit stages. In addition, MUIS claimed clear segregation of duties for every step in the halal certification process, and that key decisions on halal certification are not made by one individual but by an independent panel.
However, further investigation shows MUIS ISO 17065 certification only applies to three of seven MUIS halal certification schemes on offer. According to the Singapore Accreditation Council (SAC), under Certificate number PD-2018-18, dated 23rd January 2018, MUIS has only been certified with ISO 17065 for two of its domestic halal certification schemes, i.e., its domestic Endorsement and product/whole plant schemes. The eating establishment, food preparation, poultry abattoir, product, and storage facility schemes are not certified under ISO 17065, as MUIS misleadingly portrayed in its statement.
MUIS claims that the same rigor for awarding halal certification to local applicants also applies to MUIS’ recognition of foreign halal certification bodies (FCBs). However, documentation made available to Asia Sentinel from a couple of sources indicates that MUIS didn’t follow these procedures in accrediting foreign certifying bodies. ISO 17065 has very stringent guidelines regarding complaints and appeals. Under ISO 17065, refused foreign certification bodies would need to be duly notified of avenues of appeal under the mandatory ISO procedures, which would be adjudicated by an independent complaints and appeals committee.
The above process didn’t occur in documentation relating to the case of a delisted Austrian certification body in 2017 and in fact MUIS said it didn’t have to reveal its reasons. In a February 24, 2017 letter from the delisted certification body to MUIS requesting an appeal, a MUIS officer Abdul Rahman Lum advised the Austrian company in question, that “…under paragraph 5.6 of MUIS recognition terms and conditions, MUIS shall not be obliged to reveal reason(s) for approving or rejecting any applications.”
Lum further stated that “MUIS decisions in respect of all matters shall be final and binding as stipulated under para 5.9 of the said terms and conditions.” This indicated MUIS is clearly not adhering to ISO 17065 procedures as it purported. Not only is there a breach in ISO 17065 procedures, but a definite lack of transparency, which puts any fairness and due diligence on the part of MUIS Halal Certification Strategic Unit into question.
MUIS cites procedures established by the International Organization for Standardization as justification. Even so, ISO standards are generic procedural protocols used across a number of industries which do not specifically act as safeguards against fraud and corruption.
Although the general public may understand little about the intricacies of halal certification and ISO standards, those within the industry have expressed a general consensus that allegations the complainants cited should be thoroughly investigated in order to maintain industry integrity.
The audacious accusations made by sources in the article “against an officer in MUIS, and by extension the integrity of our halal certification process, make it incumbent upon MUIS to investigate thoroughly,” said Abdul Rahman on the Suara Melayu Singapura website.
Local Singapore socio-political activist Mohamed Jufrie Bin Mahmood said on Facebook that “…I wish to reiterate that MUIS can least afford to have its integrity and good name put on the line. Muslims here too must be assured that the food they consume, especially imported ones, must be 100 percent halal.”
At the time of writing, neither MUIS nor its lawyers have made any request to Asia Sentinel to view the evidence supporting the original story.
(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)
This article was first published in Asia Sentinel on 28 April
Murray Hunter is a retired professor, and professional runner, who spent the last 30 years in South East Asia, as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic, author and researcher, whose speciality is in community development and biotechnology.