An official report on the government’s recent Haj operation for 2009 has revealed corruption worth billions of rupees together with tales of mismanagement, incompetence and apathy, adding yet another chapter to the continuing saga of bad governance by the PPP.Submitted by a five-member official delegation led by parliamentary secretary for religious affairs Mahboob Ullah Jan and comprising provincial Haj and Auqaf ministers, the report found the accommodation issue the most crucial and said “The delegation members found obvious signs of corruption in procurement of accommodation, which ran into billions of rupees.” There have always been complaints of lack of transparency in this huge procurement. This year, the complaints were manifold and the Haj delegation has documented the poor conditions of the procured accommodation,” the report said.

Secretary Religious Affairs Agha Sarwar Raza Qazilbash, when approached by The News, said that the report of this committee was given to Religious Minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi just a few days before his departure on a foreign visit. He said he had not read the report but the minister had told him that this committee report had suggested some measures for betterment of the system. He said the religious minister will come back on January 11 and then his ministry will start taking steps in accordance with the recommendations of the committee. On the question of allegations of corruption of billions of rupees in the said report during the Haj operations, Qazilbash said that as he had not gone through the report and it was with the minister, so he could not comment on it before January 11.

The delegation members, however, unanimously recommended to the government a high-level probe to determine the reasons for hiring of substandard accommodation in Makkah for Pakistani pilgrims by the Haj Mission, which at times was not even certified by the Saudi authorities as suitable for such use. It also doubts the appropriateness of the rent claimed to have been paid on behalf of Pakistani pilgrims. The report recommended that the procurement of accommodation needs complete transparency to ensure provision of good value to the expenses paid by pilgrims and noted “Present arbitrary system lacks accountability and leaves a large room for misappropriation of billions of pilgrims’ funds.”The report talks of massive mismanagement and says that the main reasons for mismanagement were apathy, corruption and incompetence.

“There was no sense of devotion or responsibility to effectively and promptly respond to the problems faced by common pilgrims,” the report said, recommending “The sacredness as well as the challenging nature of the task of handling hundreds of thousands of pilgrims requires merit based appointment of all Haj Mission officials.” The report noted that the main concern of the Haj Mission officials has been to look after the “VIP” pilgrims including dignitaries, senior officials, members of higher judiciary, media representatives, etc. “In order to perform their basic tasks, the Haj Mission officials should devote themselves fulltime to look after ordinary pilgrims. The dignitaries, senior officials, members of higher judiciary, media reps, etc. shall be looked after by a separate team of officials specially earmarked for protocol and facilitation duties.”

According to the report, the most important component of the Haj expenses is the provision of accommodation, which makes up for 90 pc of the comfort for a pilgrim, in terms of its distance from Haram Sharif the sizes of rooms and the quality of beddings bathing, washing and cooking facilities cleanliness and hygiene as well as the overall condition of the building, its lobbies and lifts. A Pakistani pilgrim, it is said, was charged SAR3,200 for arrangement of facilities which would include transportation if the accommodation was beyond 2,000 meters from the Haram.“There was a world of difference in market prices in various areas and for various categories of accommodations in each area, but the accommodation charges deducted from each Pakistani pilgrim never went below SAR2,900, even for the farthest and the most rundown accommodations, which should not have cost more than SAR2,000 per pilgrim.”

The report revealed that the amount contributed by Hujjaj this year, is estimated to be around Rs38 billion, out of which around Rs11 billion went to PIA and other airlines in traveling expenses. Some Rs500 million went as terminal, service and vaccination charges to our Haj Ministry related facilitation in Pakistan. An estimated Rs4.8 billion was charged by the Saudi Haj Ministry, a major chunk of which went to mutawwafs (Haj facilitators), who are engaged for these services by our Haj Mission. The Haj Mission got an estimated amount of Rs6.75 billion to arrange accommodation for some 85,000 pilgrims who opted to go on government scheme. The delegation also pointed out the apathy prevailing in the officials of the Haj Mission towards the sufferings of the Pakistani pilgrims at the hands of Mutawaffs who were supposed to be monitored by the Haj Mission.

In its 24-page report, the delegation lamented the deliberate attempt by the Haj Mission officials to keep them away from ground reality. “The evasive, unfriendly and clueless attitude of the staff posted to receive the pilgrims, was exceptional to Pakistan only. When one observed the way the pilgrims were coming and leaving the Pakistani pavilion with those of other nationalities or booked with “VIP” tour operators, the waiting time for an ordinary Pakistani pilgrim at Jeddah airport, was at least two to three times longer than the waiting time for the pilgrims of other nationalities. The reports also gives detailed comparisons of facilities provided by other countries to their pilgrims and said that the Indian pilgrims paid SAR2,300 for Aziziya accommodation (including transportation) while Pakistani pilgrims were charged SAR2,900-3,200 for accommodation in that area.

At a distance of more than 1,000 meters, the Indian pilgrim paid upto SAR2,800 while for a Pakistani pilgrim it ranged between 2,900-3,200. No Indian pilgrim lived in such poor condition accommodations for which Pakistani pilgrims were paying SAR2,900-2,950 (which by sheer comparison did not value more than SAR2,000). No Pakistani pilgrim under the government scheme was provided accommodation within 1,000 meters area whereas there were several buildings of Indian Haj Committee within this range (some just 200-300 meters away from Haram) for which they did not charge more than SAR3,500 per pilgrim. About the arrangements in Mina, it said “There was no system of visits by officials of the Haj Mission, of the tents of Pakistani pilgrims in Mina to get their feedback and to ensure their due facilitation. They were left at the mercy of Mutawaffs who were at liberty to give last priority to Pakistani pilgrims despite being paid on equal terms.”

The report also covers the efficacy of billions of rupees spent from national exchequer on the staffing of Haj Mission as well as the seasonal arrangements such as Medical Mission and Khuddamul Hujjaj (servants of pilgrims). As for some 250 Khuddamul Hujjaj were drawn from the armed forced. The report says “Most of Khuddamul Hujjaj were found busy in performing their own Haj and did not perform any duty at all.” It further says “The delegation members were of unanimous opinion that the number of Khuddamul Hujjaj was not justified. It was also observed that this large contingent needs to be replaced by coordinators/facilitators who were properly equipped with IT gadgets and trained/qualified in IT skills to handle large number of pilgrims and their luggage efficiently with use of modern technology.” As for the Medical Mission, it says “The Health Mission was unnecessarily large and continuing extensive procurement of medicines most of which were not required to be provided by them in view of blanket health coverage provided by the Saudi government.”