The Hajj — the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca — has become a source of corruption in Indonesia.
Every year the Southeast-Asian nation, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, sends the most pilgrims to Mecca of any country in the world. But according to New York Times story published Thursday, Indonesian government officials and politicians are misusing money deposited by some 1.2 million pilgrims on a government waiting list for the trip to the Saudi Arabian city.
According to government investigators and anti-corruption groups, Indonesian officials exploit the wide-ranging requirements of the state-run Hajj, dipping into the nearly $2.4 billion deposited by pilgrims on the waiting list for personal gain. In turn, this had contributed to food shortages and cramped accommodations for pilgrims.
Veteran bureaucrats and lawmakers have formed a “Hajj mafia,” using annual negotiations over the cost of the pilgrimage to extract bribes for themselves, the Times said. This year, Indonesia’s national Parliament and officials at the Ministry of Religious Affairs recently settled on the price of the Hajj, after officials agreed to share $2.8 million in bribes from the ministry.
According to the Times, ministry officials and lawmakers deny the accusations, defending themselves by citing the fact that the cost of the pilgrimage had been lowered by $80 to $3,342, compared with last year. Anti-corruption groups say that without graft and mismanagement the cost would be several hundred dollars lower.
In 2006, senior ministry officials were convicted for misusing Hajj funds and bribing state auditors to validate the ministry’s accounts. A recent report by the Corruption Eradication Commission, the government’s main anti-corruption agency, identified 48 practices in Hajj management that could lead to corruption. Despite these developments, advocates say the Hajj system remains corrupt.