Govt to charge more for haj, but no guarantee of better services
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The government and the House of Representatives have agreed to raise the cost of the haj service from last year’s US$3.533 to $3.617 for 2012, an increase that, it was claimed, would be used to improve services for pilgrims.
The Religious Affairs Ministry said that the higher fees would be used to pay for better housing services in Mecca and Medina, air fares and other amenities at the pilgrimage sites.
Lawmakers claimed they had no choice but to approve the increase although there was no assurance that pilgrims would get improved services.
The House of Representatives Commission VIII overseeing religious affairs said that it had been reluctant to increase the fees but had no alternative. The new fees will likely be the last such proposal that the Religious Affairs Ministry makes as the House is now deliberating an amendment to the haj management law that would transfer the handling of the haj to an independent body.
“The ministry will still be responsible for the management because we haven’t completed an amendment to the law, which aims to separate the management from the ministry and set up an independent body to handle the haj,” said member of Commission VIII Muhammad Oheo Sinapoy.
Oheo said that the House pressed ahead with its deliberation in spite of an objection from the ministry.
“We believe that the haj management is mostly about service provision, and it’s important to involve private operators who have expertise in services such as tours, travel, hotels and catering in order to better serve pilgrims,” he said.
Lawmakers are now mulling two options; whether to privatize the haj services or set up an independent body to handle it.
Other proposals in the amendment include giving opportunities to private airlines to transport haj pilgrims.
The current haj management law No. 17/1999 gives the authority to the Religious Affairs Ministry to directly appoint airlines that fly pilgrims to Mecca. So far, the ministry has only given the project to state carrier Garuda Indonesia and Saudi Airlines.
Critics have said that the monopoly of the haj management by the ministry had opened the door for graft.
The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) previously said that it found irregularities in the use of interest proceeds worth Rp 1.7 trillion ($180 million) from the management of the haj fund.
The anti graft body has suggested the government impose a moratorium on the haj program until the ministry can settle the allegations of misuse of the fund which is accumulated from more than 1.4 million would-be pilgrims who had registered with the ministry.
Contacted separately, Commission VIII chairman Ida Fauziah said that the House expected to finish the amendment to the current haj law by the end of this year.
“We have it on the list of bills that has to be completed in 2012 and we expect to complete the deliberation soon. And for the time being we can only hope that the haj management will be better this year,” she said.
Ida said that she expected the ministry would provide better services commensurate with the extra money that pilgrims had paid.
Religious Affairs Ministry Suryadharma Ali said that his ministry assured that this year’s service would improve.
“We will do our best to serve the pilgrims. We will improve coordination within the ministry and with the government of Saudi Arabia,” Suryadharma told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with Commission VIII on Tuesday.
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