Ali did not expect to be solicited for bribe money from the “religious” office that was supposed to take care of arrangements for his marriage, but that was exactly what happened.
The 24-year-old newlywed was referring to the Office of Religious Affairs, or KUA, which handles everything under Islamic law, from issuing marriage certificates and Hajj pilgrimage documents to divorces and inheritances. Religious Affairs officials, known as penghulu , are also authorized to lead marriage ceremonies.
“I knew that there would be some administrative fees, but nobody bothered to tell me exactly how much,” he told the Jakarta Globe recently. “Instead I was told by the official who was to lead the marriage ceremony that the KUA needs donations from the bride and groom just to cover all the office expenses.
“If they really expect donations and they were sincere about it, they should at least be transparent enough to inform us how much the official fees were and we would gladly provide extra.”
Ali (not his real name) said he paid Rp 150,000 ($16) that day and would pay a further Rp 500,000 on the day of his wedding.
“I just hope that the official is true to his word,” he said. “I’m afraid that if I don’t pay they will be reluctant to take care of our papers. I just don’t want any fuss.”
Junaedi (also not his real name), chief of a Religious Affairs Office in Jakarta, admitted to the Globe that his office relied on “donations” from couples to cover its expenses. “We receive very little budget from the central government. If it weren’t for donations, we don’t know how the office would run.”
The official said he could get Rp 500,000 ($53) to Rp 4 million for a ceremony and could lead up to 12 weddings a month.
Fauzi Salim, who was married more than six years ago, said he, too, was solicited for bribes. “They never openly ask for money. They first look at your reception to see how lavish it is and solicit information about your background to see if you’re rich. Then KUA officials talk about their experiences, such as how much they got when they lead a certain ritual to give us some idea of how much we should give them.”
Sonny, a newlywed, said he had to call off his wedding at first because the official who was supposed to lead his procession did not show up. “When I went to the KUA and filed the necessary documents I immediately told them I only wanted to pay the official fee,” he said. “I could see their faces start to change.”
Ade Irawan, coordinator for public service affairs at Indonesia Corruption Watch, said that regardless of the situation, officials receiving money could be charged under the 1999 law on corruption.
“If couples give the money out of their own initiative it could be considered a gratuity. If the motivation is to expedite the issuance of the certificates then it is bribery, but if the official threatens not to come at all unless he is paid then it is extortion,” he said. “As hard as it is, people should stop paying more than the official fee.”
Kaelani, a Religious Affairs official in Jakarta, said he only accepts money from couples who are “sincere.” “If they feel reluctant about giving the money, then the money would be haram [forbidden],” he said.
“I am not like officials who refuse to lead the ceremony unless they are paid. I just suggest that the newlyweds think of those who are less fortunate, to spread the wealth around. For me, as long as everyone is happy, the bride is happy and the guests are happy, the KUA officials should be happy, too,” Kaelani said.