The March 18th deadline does not bid well for most hajj operators who are not yet ready with their hajj packages and will not be able to make the deadline set by SAHUC for the completion of their packages.
Speaking to Radio Islam’s Moulana Sulaimaan Ravat, SAHUC’s secretary general Shaheen Essop said he believed ten days given to Hujjaj to accept accreditation is sufficient because they (Hujjaj) have been registered for such a long time. He says it’s unfortunate that SAHUC has to work through the backlog of the list and wants to rollout the accreditation to other prospective Hujjaj from those who did not accept the initial accreditation.
“The reason for starting so early is obviously to ensure that we don’t have a cancellation rush at the end of the programme closer to the time of hajj,” added Essop.
Essop played down concerns that hajj operators didn’t have sufficient time to present their packages, saying that it’s the hajj operators that requested the accredited list be released early. He said that 9 hajj operators out of a total 32 have submitted quality hajj packages to SAHUC and Hujjaj won’t be disadvantaged because the hajj packages are from some of the bigger agents and caters for Hujjaj across the economic spectrum.
Essop reiterated that SAHUC cannot continue to change timelines for Hajj operators that were lethargic in getting their packages ready on time. He said if there is a delay in the process, it would have a knock-on effect in the way the Hujjaj is listed in the Saudi Kingdom. “So any delay in this whole process which needs to be completed round about the middle or the end of Ramadaan is not going to be sufficient time from the end of April," said Essop.
As for the argument that many issues remain unresolved until the protocols are signed and that Hujjaj are being rushed into choosing hajj packages Essop said, “Well that is absolutely ‘pie in the sky.’ The only factors financially that one would like to look at would be the Tanazzul (Tax). Tanazzul (Tax) is not going to change. There is no additional costing for Tanazzul (Tax). The only other factor that may change which we already got confirmation of is the camps. Camp B and Camp C, and this have been communicated to the hajj operators and they're well aware of it,” said Essop.
“Infact the response from one of the hajj operators whose package I have, he said ‘but we’ve already factored this in, into a buffer. So if a hajj operator does not factor in a Rs50 or Rs100 increase in the cost of your camps for Mina, than that hajj operator does not have any idea in terms of what he or she is doing,” added Essop.
At the time of going to print, 1 200 people out of 2 500 accepted their accreditation. Essop said that they continually speak to authorities in Saudi Arabia to increase the hajj quota, and even if they don’t get an increase they will continue to be tenacious in their efforts to obtain an increase.
Meanwhile Nazier Malek a spokesperson for South African Muslim Travel Association (SAMTA) said that he would like to see the quantity and contents of the 9 agents mentioned by Essop and how they managed to put together their packages on time. He said there are restrictions and limitations this year compared to previous years. “As much as my brother Shaheen says about lethargicness on the path of agents; and on other programmes, he said we were more interested in Umrah and not in hajj and that delayed us, I don’t think that those are the reasons,” said Malek.
Malek said the Saudi Kingdom has new systems and one of these systems is that hotels must have a tasneef (Document) before they can be occupied by Hujjaj as they must first be approved by the fire department. He reiterated they were only made aware of the price increase of special services during the 5 days of Hajj about three days ago. And this handicapped some operators in getting their packages out on time. He said that the buffers Essop mentioned can disadvantage the Hujjaj.
An area of great concern Malek mentions is where SAHUC has insisted that all Hujjaj be fed two meals without viewing or signing the protocol document. He said this request added pressure on the Hujjaj and an additional cost to the package as Hujjaj are accommodated in 5 star hotels and these hotels do not allow food to be brought in as it’s against the rules of the Kingdom.
Malek added all they’re asking from SAHUC is a small extension (until the 25th March) to accommodate the many systems and to get their packages in order. He said that in a worst case scenario, if they did miss SAHUC’s deadline, it would be unfair practice on the side of the Hajj body. “If you say that you have accredited us for 3 years and that shouldn’t be a proviso that you don’t have a package that you should not be listed,” said Malek.
“If I have a following in my area, then Hujjaj, irrespective of whether my package is ready or not, will wait for me until I get that. But you are disadvantaging the Hujjaj by taking him of your portal and saying to him you didn’t select an agent or you didn’t select the accreditation process, “added Malek
Malek is hoping that issues that are prevalent between SAHUC and the many hajj operators who have not submitted by hajj packages are resolved behind closed doors.
Prospective Hujjaj whose names appear on the first accreditation list which was released last weekend have to confirm to SAHUC that they would be going for Hajj this year by the 18th March 2013. Thereafter they have 10 days to decide on a Hajj operator. Agents have to present their finalised packages to SAHUC by the 18th March to make it on to the list of agents who can operate this year.
At the end of the day, whether it’s SAHUC or any Hajj operator, the invitation to embark on the spiritual journey of Hajj can and will only be ever extended by Allah SWT.