The Ghana Hajj Agents Association (GHAA) has appealed to the government to impress on the Interim Hajj Management Committee (IHMC) to release the money of the 723 prospective pilgrims who could not make it to Hajj last year.
The association again called for the immediate release of the luggage of about 700 pilgrims. Some of the luggage are said to be at the Jeddah Airport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia while others are at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra.
This was contained in a report that the GHAA submitted to the National Chief Imam, Sheikh Usman Nuhu Sharubutu, and copied to the offices of the President and Vice President.
The report asked the government to give the GHAA the mandate to organise Hajj 2008 and after, since it had “all that it takes to deliver with a promise of problem-free Hajj operations”.
It said the GHAA had organised the Hajj with the defunct Ghana Airways for over 15 years without any problems, and that the formation of several Committees, Boards, Councils and Pilgrimage Organisations to man the Hajj had rather created problems in the operations of Hajj in the country.
The report recommended that contracted airlines should be a known airline operating in Ghana with a landing right in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The report called for efforts to secure easily accessible accommodation at Mecca since most of the houses close to the Holy Mosque, Haram, were being renovated.
It called for the abolition of the task force charged with the pilgrims' welfare, “because the agents automatically perform the duty of a task force due to our general working experience”.
The report noted that the number of prospective pilgrims swell year after year, and appealed to the government to request the Saudi Hajj authorities to review Ghana's quota from 2,700 to 4,000 “to solve the unforeseen excess of Ghana's quota”.
It commended the government for the manner it facilitated the extension at the Jeddah Airport.
An Executive Member of the Ghana Hajj Agents Association, Alhaji Ayana Yakubu, told the Daily Graphic that the disappointed pilgrims were putting pressure on him to release their money, but the IHMC had still not released the money.
He threatened to take legal action against members of the IHMC if they failed to release the money to the disappointed pilgrims within the next two weeks.
Alhaji Ayana again threatened to organise series of demonstrations to demand the release of the money and the luggage to ease the burden on the disappointed pilgrims.
According to him, some pilgrims were given 40 kilogrammes (kg) ceiling for their luggage and that they were made to pay 20 Saudi riyals each for one additional kilogramme, besides the 50 Saudi riyals handling charges.
Alhaji Ayana said the IHMC promised the pilgrims that they would accompany their luggage, only to reach Ghana to be told that their luggage were still at the Jeddah Airport.
Alhaji Mustapha Dauda, an executive member of the GHAA who presented the report to the National Chief Imam, told the Daily Graphic that the Hajj agents had lost faith in the National Hajj Council because of its persistent disappointment of pilgrims.
He, therefore, called on the government to allow the agents to manage the Hajj, regarding the acquisition of flights and accommodation in Saudi Arabia since they had the experience.
Reacting to the report, the operations director of the Interim Hajj Management Committee, Alhaji Abdul-Nassir Tijjani, said the number of pilgrims who had paid but could secure the visas was not about 700 and that it was between 400 and 500.
He said the money for the disappointed pilgrims was still intact, and explained that $820,000 was still in the care of Al-Alama Airline for its inability to lift all the 2,800 pilgrims agreed in the contract.
Alhaji Abdul-Nassir claimed that the Emirate Airline also lifted 52 pilgrims out of the 200 pilgrims paid to it, and that the Emirate Airline would release the outstanding amount.
Besides, he said, the IHMC had saved with the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB), and that the bank was yet to release their money as the defunct Hajj Board was indebted to it.
He said the IHMC would release the money as soon as they secured it.
On the luggage, Alhaji Abdul-Nassir insisted that about 300 bags were left at the Jeddah Airport, and indicated that about 120 had arrived and the remaining 180 would be arriving soon.
The organisation of Hajj has been fraught with delays in the departure to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, poor accommodation in Mecca, late return journey and delay in the arrival of luggage.
Last year's Hajj was no different as the pilgrims were made to sleep at the Aviation Social Centre for about 10 days following the delay in the arrival of their flights. And about five months after their return, some of them have still not received their luggage.
Story by Musah Yahaya Jafaru