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Religion of Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Source: Alhaji Abdul RaufTanko

Ghana gets pilgrims affairs office

In fulfillment of his promise to set up a public body to overseer the organization of all religious pilgrimages from Ghana, the government of President John Dramani Mahama is setting up a new Pilgrims Affairs Secretariat.

A specialize committee has therefore been set to draft legislation for consideration by Cabinet and subsequent approval by parliament. The secretariat, when set up will oversee to the annual airlifting of Muslim pilgrims to Mecca and other religious bodies embarking on pilgrimages. This was revealed by the Chairman of the National Hajj Committee, Alhaji Abdul Rauf Tanko at a press conference last Thursday at the Hajj Village in Accra to announce the details for this year Hajj. According to him the draft legislation will be sent to cabinet and then forwarded to parliament for approval as soon as the experts working on it conclude their work. “The President has taken a decision. He has nominated some people to draft a legislation that will be forwarded to Cabinet and parliament for approval so that we will have a Pilgrims Affairs Secretariat; and once it is passed into law, we will have permanent pilgrims commission,” he stated Announcing the fare for this year’s Hajj, Alhaji Abdul RaufTanko stated that Ghanaians with intension of embarking on this year’s holy journey to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will pay the same amount of $3450 their compatriots paid last year. According to the Chairman potential pilgrims for this year’s trip will enjoy the same services their colleagues enjoyed last year but with much improvement. The committee he said, was putting in place measures to avert the challenges it faced in last year’s organization, assuring that “this year’s Hajj will be much improved and better than last year.” Though the fare remained unchanged, pilgrims preparing to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj this year would be expected to cough up about GHS 9,900 in excess of the GHS 6, 800 their colleagues paid last year due to the depreciation of the cedi against the dollar. Explaining why the NHC was charging in dollars despite the BoG’s directive against the trading in none other currency than the cedi, he stated that service providers in Saudi Arabi will charge in dollars as a result the committee has been compelled to charge its fares in dollars.

He, however, stated that the Board will accept the cedi currency and convert it to dollars if pilgrims can’t pay in dollars.

“All the services that we expect from the service providers are in dollars. We will take the money in cedis, but we will pay the money in dollars because we have to change the money and transfer it to the service providers in Saudi Arabia.”

The package for this year just as last year includes airfare to Jeddah and back, airport taxes, accommodation in Madina and Mecca. Others are healthcare and insurance, and ground transportation from Medina to Mecca-Mina and Arafat, then back to Mina, Mecca and finally to Jeddah for the return journey back home.

This year’s pilgrims too will be provided with special mattresses and feeding at Mina, plus the cost of freight of a Jerri can of Zamzaem water, which, as evident in last year’s organization, will be provided to pilgrims immediately they return to back home.

AlhajiRaufTanko revealed that the committee has made a 50 percent advance payment for the 5424 pilgrims which is the quota allocated to Ghana for their year’s Hajj. The advance payments he said, covers accommodation, transportation and feeding among others.

He added that the NHC has concluded arrangements with Saudi Arabia’s second national airline, FLYNAS to airlift Ghanaians pilgrims for this year’s Hajj. The choice of the flight he said was made by the aviation authorities of the Saudi Arabia.

Explaining that “per the aviation laws of Saudi Arabia, no aircraft aside one from their country or Ghana is allowed to airlift pilgrims from Ghana to Saudi Arabia, and so because Ghana does not have an airline, the authorities in Suadi gave recommended we use their second national airline which charges and provides the same services as Egypt Air.”

Revealing the slight changes in this year’s organization, the NHC Chairman noted that unlike last year where Access bank was the official bank, the committee has settled on Unibank as the official bank to receive payment on behalf of the committee.

Giving reasons why the committee chose Unibank ahead of the many banks operating in Ghana, AlhajiRaufTanko remarked “Unibank pre-financed this year’s Hajj. They paid for the 50 percent advance payment so we are using them.

He cautioned prospective pilgrims to pay their monies to accredited Hajj agents or pay directly into an account number 2110116555414 at any Unibank branch to beat the August 18, 2014 deadline, stressing “the service will not be different from last year. It is still remains first come first serve and even if we get the full quota allocated to us before the deadline we will not accept any payment.”