Shariah scheme could spark interfaith friction, EPF warned

Datuk Shahril Ridza said EPF has allocated an initial RM100 billion, or about 15 per cent of its total investment assets of RM681.7 billion as at March 2016, for the Shariah-compliant savings scheme. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Datuk Shahril Ridza said EPF has allocated an initial RM100 billion, or about 15 per cent of its total investment assets of RM681.7 billion as at March 2016, for the Shariah-compliant savings scheme. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, June 23 ― The Employees Provident Fund's (EPF) move to introduce a Shariah contribution scheme could spark dissension between Muslims and minorities of other faiths, pro-moderation group Centre for a Better Tomorrow (Cenbet) said today.

The NGO said the creation of a parallel scheme specifically for a religion would create situations that may be perceived as unjust, and urged the retirement fund to rescind the decision.

“With two parallel schemes running, it is likely that their dividends would differ from time to time. This would create a sense of injustice among contributors, which could take a racial-religious dimension,” the group said in a statement.

“Inevitably, there will come a day when Malaysian employees' retirement savings are determined by the religion they profess in,” it added.

The EPF announced three days ago that its Shariah-compliant savings scheme will be open for registration on August 8, 2016.

Its chief executive officer, Datuk Shahril Ridza, said then that the retirement fund has allocated an initial RM100 billion, or about 15 per cent of its total investment assets of RM681.7 billion as at March 2016, for the scheme.

Cenbet said the new programme may also create perceptions among the public that some investments could be non-halal or haram by comparison or implication.

“This is not healthy in a plural society where we should embrace diversity and not allow our religious differences to further divide us,” it said.

Cenbet added that the EPF was set up as a mandatory retirement savings fund and its statutory duty is to maximise returns for all contributors based on sound investment policies.

“It should stick to doing this, although the fund may choose to stay clear of alcoholic beverages and gaming counters.

“Beyond this, it is not EPF's duty to introduce a religious dimension into its investment decisions. We live in a multicultural society that can do without further division,” it said.

Malaysia has seen rise of Shariah-compliant businesses and measures, from airlines to web browsers, in tandem with the country's growing religious conservatism.