Feature Article of Monday, 15 January 2007
Columnist: Adamu, Abass A.
It seems to me that the blame game arising from the failures of this years Hajj will go on and on until next year’s Hajj. Instead of playing the blame game, I think we should focus our attention on preparing and looking for solutions to make future Hajj operations more successful. The theme of my article is to discuss the problem of the 1000 pilgrims from Ghana, who never made it to the Holy Land to perform Hajj rites - one of the five pillars of Islam.
The government has delegated the responsibility of organizing Hajj to the Ghana National Hajj Council (GNHC) headed by Sheikh Mustapha Ibrahim, Head of Islamic Council on Humanitarian Development with Dr. Rabiatu Armah, a lecturer at the University of Ghana as Vice Chairperson. Hajj operation is a very important project and must be executed successfully every year to win the confidence of the Hajj pilgrims.
As a Licensed Hajj Operator in the United States for the past 10 years based in New York City, I have considerable experience in issues relating to Hajj tours. From a practical point of view, organizing Hajj trips can be a monumental task anywhere in the world and operations may not always come off according to plan. It takes time to do it right. In my view preparations must start as soon as the pilgrims from the last Hajj return from Saudi Arabia.
Early planning and collaboration with experts in the travel and hospitality industry can reduce problems. In the U.S. a Licensed Hajj operator is in charge of the planning for airline reservations, processing of travel documents, accommodation and transportation in Saudi Arabia. All these processes can be accomplished without a glitch, if planning is done ahead of time and efficient backup plans made for any eventuality.
The most prevalent problem in Hajj operation is logistics planning and effective resource allocation and to be able to handle all these problems successfully, the GNHC needs to have a timeline for its operations. The timeline should specify what needs to be done at every level during the course of operation and a specific date assigned for its completion.
I will like to take this opportunity to make some suggestions to the government of Ghana on how to solve some of the recurring problems encountered during Hajj operations for the last several years. The government should delegate but also fully supervise the activities and operations of the GNHC. GNHC should act effectively and efficiently by collaborating with the all stakeholders (Sheikh Usman Sharubutu, who is the Chief Imam, FOMWOG, COMWOG, FMC, Ahli Sunna Wajamat, and The United Hajj Agents Association.
In the U.S, there is no Hajj Council or Committee appointed by the government to oversee Hajj operations but there are independent licensed Hajj operators certified by the State Department to do business internationally. The licensed Hajj operators must abide by the rules and regulations set up by the U.S. government or face stiff penalties. The penalties range from fines to license suspension on revocation. The responsibility of the government should not end after setting up GNHC to oversee Hajj operations. The entire process must be regulated and appropriate disciplinary measures put in place to deal with negligent or fraudulent operators. The job must be seen to be done well. As in everything else, we must insist on accountability in this matter too.
In an article, captioned “COMOG To Investigate Pilgrims Plight”, published on Ghanweb on December 29, 2006 Honorable. Kwadwo Mpiani, Chief of Staff and Minister of Presidential Affairs, is reported to have spoken in defense of the government on the Hajj Fiasco. He is reported to have said that “the government does not interfere in the activities of GNHC except when assistance is needed.”
Now one most important question comes out of the statement made by our Honorable Minister. I will like to ask when did the government realize that there was a problem with this year’s Hajj operation in terms of acquiring an aircraft to fly the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia and what action was taken when the problem came to their attention?
To avoid a situation where the government does not know of Hajj problems until it is too late, I think the GNHC should update the government on all its activities daily during the Hajj operation so that backup arrangements will be set up to eliminate bottlenecks in the process.
Many reports from reliable sources specifically indicate that the main problem for this year’s Hajj was the delay in the acquisition of an aircraft for the 1000 pilgrims who never made to Saudi Arabia. A news article with title “700 Pilgrims Can’t Fly ” by The Daily Guide dated 12/28/06 also explained that Egypt Air, national airline of Egypt, was initially contracted to airlift all the pilgrims from Ghana and the operation started very smoothly. After 1266 pilgrims were airlifted to Saudi Arabia, another airline, Swissair, was contracted to airlift the remaining pilgrims and that never happened. No GNHC official was able to explain to the public the reason for the swift change to a different airline. The GNHC should be very prudent to sign contracts with reliable airlines in the future or seek advice from experts in the airline industry for the benefit of all Ghanaians.
The Chairman and CEO of Antrak Air, Alhaji Asuma Banda, for example, whom I do not, incidentally know personally but have had the opportunity to read about his airline and shipping business operations, could have been consulted for expert advice. He has successfully airlifted pilgrims before from Mali to Saudi Arabia according to reliable sources in article by Chronicle on 12/28/06 captioned “Veep Under Fire…..” published on Ghanaweb. The GNHC should have tapped into all resources available to fulfill the dream of the Hajj pilgrims stranded at the Kotoka International Airport.
In this day and age the ultimate tool used in planning operations is known as Collaborative Resource Planning (CRP) and demands the use of any resources available to an agency that may form an integral part of an operation to accomplish it effectively and efficiently.
For example, the planning of next year’s Hajj should start as early as possible and should involve experts in the chartering of aircrafts or officials from the airline to be used, if an airline has already been identified, professionals in the hospitality industry for accommodation arrangements, Pilgrim Services at both Kotoka International Airport, Accra and King Abdul Aziz International Airport, Jeddah; the religious leaders concerned and all key stakeholders.
Additionally, we suggest that every year, GNHC must organize a conference on Hajj, to serve as a forum where suggestions, advice and recommendations will be heard from all interested stakeholders. The main topic of discussion at the conference should be “how can future Hajj operations be accomplished successfully?” There should be a review of all the problems encountered during the previous year’s Hajj and how to improve the quality of service.
In conclusion, I suggest that the government must control most of the operations of GNHC for the purpose of checks and balances. India has been doing it successfully every year why can’t we do it?