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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Tabung Haji depositors worried, demand transparency in funds management

With one controversy after another hitting Lembaga Tabung Haji (TH), depositors said they are worried about their savings, but not to the point of withdrawing or totally closing their accounts.

Generally, they want the pilgrims fund to be more transparent in its undertakings and go back to its original purpose, which is to aid Muslims in the country to save and build up cash so that they can perform the haj, which is one of the five pillars in Islam.

Many also believed Tabung Haji was not telling them the "whole truth" on the latest controversy where Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) issued an advisory stating that the fund's reserves are in the red.

Ida Haryani Khairi, a technical engineer who has been saving with the fund since young said she was worried that her money might one day disappear if TH failed to handle its financial problems.

"I save my money in Tabung Haji for the dividends and also to pay the zakat (tithe).

"I also use the money for other family emergencies, apart from saving for haj in the future.

"But with a crisis like this, depositors like me are worried that our savings might be gone," the 31-year-old said.

"I'm worried that when I need to withdraw, there will be none left.

"The thought of taking the money out did cross my mind, but I have not decided," she told The Malaysian Insider.

Meanwhile, Ikhwan Hafiz, 30, also an engineer, was concerned that panic would spur a large number of withdrawals which in turn affect the fund's ability to meet its main objective, which is to assist Muslims to perform the haj.

"I've saved money with the main purpose of performing the haj.

"If depositors are only saving for the purpose of dividends and bonuses, and they take all their money out, it will affect Tabung Haji and those who want to perform the haj.

"I hope the fund will reevaluate its investments and undertake transparent risk management measures in order to ensure it stays true to its purpose."

As for Siti Hazwani Ramli, 29, her concern was more on TH's financial health following the publishing of the BNM letter.

"If the news is true, Tabung Haji needs to explain to depositors why the financial situation has deteriorated... and why did Bank Negara need to intervene?

"Does this not prove that the fund is facing a financial crisis?

"As a monthly depositor, I am thankful to those who have come out and published those letters, as I believe their intention was to ensure the issue gets the attention it deserves and is investigated," the human resources executive said.

She added that the questions raised were genuine because it has been the norm for TH to announce the bonus payout during the first quarter of the year (January to March).

Meanwhile, Ahmad Hassan, 55, a vehicle spare parts supervisor, was disappointed with the latest development in the pilgrims fund and hopes that the issue would be resolved immediately for the sake of the depositors.

"No matter how bad Tabung Haji's record is, we still have to go through the fund to perform our haj.

"I'm disappointed, we have put our utmost trust and it is a body that is supposed to be shariah-compliant.

"So when there is news of leakages in the administration involving what belongs to us, we are worried and disappointed.

"I just feel the government is not being frank with us but at the same time, neither can we just reject Tabung Haji altogether." he said.

The fund's chairman Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim (pic, left) recently insisted that TH did not require financial aid from Putrajaya to pay dividends to its 8.8 million depositors this year.

He said this after details of a letter from BNM governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz to him dated December 23 last year, mentioning that the fund had only 98 sen in assets for each ringgit in liability, was leaked online.

TH had also sparked controversy when it bought a 1.56-acre plot of land in the Tun Razak Exchange from debt-laden 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) for RM188.5 million last April.

Critics have described the deal as a bailout for 1MDB, which had reportedly accumulated some RM42 billion in debt.

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