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08.06.2007 Religion

Committee faults Hajj Council, agents

The Committee of Enquiry set up to investigate the failings of the 2006/7 Hajj in the country has made adverse findings against the National Hajj Council (NHC) and the Hajj Agents Association of Ghana (HAAG) in the organisation of the Hajj.

The committee found that inefficiency and incompetence on the part of some members of the NHC and Hajj agents contributed to the 2006/7 Hajj crisis which resulted in the inability of the NHC to airlift 490 would-be pilgrims to Saudi Arabia to perform the pilgrimage.

The findings were made known at a press conference organised by the Alhlus-Sunnah Wal Jama'a (ASWAJ) and the Coalition of Muslim Organisations, Ghana (COMOG), two of the three stakeholder organisations which formed the committee, in Accra on Thursday.

The committee of enquiry, comprising Islamic scholars, lawyers, a banker, a chief, a parliamentarian, a security intelligence expert, a journalist and an educationist, was set up in February this year by COMOG, ASWAJ and the Federation of Muslim Associations of Ghana (FOMWAG), three of the four stakeholder organisations which constitute the NHC, to establish the failings of the 2006/7 Hajj.

Soon after the formation of the committee, the Office of the National Chief Imam, the fourth member stakeholder on the NHC, held a press conference and opposed its formation, describing the committee as illegal.

Those who appeared before the committee included officials of the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service, the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Ghana, pilgrims and other interested parties.

However, according to the Chairman of the committee, Alhaji Abdul Razzaq Khailann, members of the NHC and the HAAG did not appear before it.

The Greater Accra Regional Vice-Chairman of COMOG, Mr Mohammed Frimpong, and a member of ASWAJ, Alhaji Abdul-Fattah Twahir-Akinyele, jointly read the report.

The report revealed that the NHC contracted Egypt Air for the delivery of three chartered flights, not five as the NHC had informed the public.

It said the efforts the NHC put into the aircraft negotiations with Ethiopian Airlines and Alhaji Garba, the agent for Kenyan Airlines, were "abysmal" and that the by-passing of Akuaba Travel & Tours, after the council contracted it to deal with Ethiopian Airlines was uncalled for.

According to the report, the acquisition of the SAT Swiss Aviation Group aircraft was a government aided crash programme which was not part of the NHC's original flight arrangements, saying that the airline's failure to airlift the remaining prospective pilgrims, after providing only one flight, "was not surprising, given the ad-hoc nature of the whole arrangement".

The report established that neither the NHC nor the government had a hand in the acquisition of the 500-seater jumbo jet from Nigeria which carted 70 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia after the closing of the Jeddah Airport and that it was purely the effort of Hajia Zianabu, also known as Madam, and her friends.

It said had members of the NHC co-operated with Hajia Zianabu, all the 490 stranded would-be pilgrims would have been airlifted to Saudi Arabia, since the jet left Accra for Jeddah almost empty.

It said accommodation arrangements in all the camping sites, namely, Makkah, Mina, Arafat, Muzdalifah and Madina, were poor, while transportation arrangements were equally poor, leading to some pilgrims getting to prayer grounds late on some occasions.

The report concluded that the NHC's handling of negotiations with Egypt Air, Ethiopian Airlines, SAT Swiss Aviation Group, among others; for the acquisition of flights for pilgrims "exposed the ineptitude, mediocrity and complacency which characterized the work of the NHC, a situation which resulted in its failure to airlift 490 would-be pilgrims".

It accused the Hajj agents of engaging in passport and travel certificate racketeering and cited an instance when an agent issued a Beninois Hajj travel certificate to a Ghanaian.

The report, therefore, recommended the restructuring of the NHC by the stakeholders, in consultation with the government, in order to restore confidence, accountability and transparency in Hajj operations, in line with the decisions of the National Hajj Conference.

It said the Hajj Conference should be made an annual affair which would either endorse the performance of the NHC or take appropriate remedial measures where the council faulted.

On the acquisition of flights, the report recommended that standard procedures, such as invitation for bids from service providers, be adopted and the winner made to provide a performance bond of a specified percentage from a credible financial institution.

It suggested a cut-off point of at least three months before the commencement of Hajj to give the NHC enough room for efficient planning.

It asked for the screening of Hajj agents to meet defined eligibility criteria, such as having a properly registered company with the Register-General's Department," a registered place of operation, a title of ownership of an immovable property and a functional bank account.

On the basis of the findings and recommendations, Mr Frimpong said ASWAJ and COMOG, after consultations with the Office of the National Chief Imam and FOMWAG, had withdrawn their representatives on the NHC and were considering replacing them.

He said the two organisations had proposed the engagement of a firm of chartered accountants to audit the accounts of the NHC from its inception in September 2005.

Mr Frimpong said the two bodies came up with a management and operations working document for the NHC, which called for the inclusion of the Tijjaniyyah, Shia, the Muslim Caucus in Parliament and the Ghana Muslim Women Caucus in the NHC.

Source: Daily Graphic

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