Independent Hajj Reporters
The new hajj policy introduced by Saudi Arabia Ministry of Hajj recently may alter the arithmetic and the formula for finding the 2020 hajj fare and may change the templates for computing hajj services in Nigeria.
First, the Leader of Saudi delegation and Vice Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Dr. Abdul Fatah Mishat during a technical discussion session in preparatory to the MOU signing ceremony with Nigeria hajj delegation in Saudi Arabia was quoted to have said that “2020 hajj pilgrims could pay an optional 100 Saudi Riyals or more as insurance cover for any accidents, loss of property and other risks they may face while on Hajj. This does not, however, include medical care as the Kingdom grants free health care to every pilgrim while in the holy land”. This is contained a statement signed by NAHCON Head of Public Affairs Unit, Fatima Sanda Usara.
The statement further said that the Saudi delegation declared that “the amount charged for all types of visa is 300 Riyals”. It added that “the validity of the Umrah and visit (tourism) visas do not extend to Hajj period as Issuance of such visas ends shortly before the onset of Hajj season”.
Also, Fatima Sanda Usara quoted Saudi Hajj authorities as saying that “henceforth, Adhahi sacrifice, otherwise known as Hadaya will be integrated into e-Hajj with a standardized price to ensure that all pilgrims pay the same amount globally.
Here lies the subject matter: The compulsory SR300 visa for all pilgrims; the SR100 insurance fee (though it is said to be optional) and the directive that Hadaya (animal sacrifice fee) be paid online through e-hajj payment system thus making it compulsory to include Hadaya into hajj cost components. It could be recalled that the 300 Compulsory visa fees were introduced when the SR2000 Hajj/Umrah repeaters fee was abolished by the Saudi Arabia hajj authority.
There are 25 components in hajj package aside from the hadaya which is made optional. The three items above were not part of 2019 hajj fare cost templates; thus bringing us to the possibility of having an additional three items. Interestingly, the previous 2000 Saudi Riyals that was cancelled is paid by only Hajj/Umrah repeaters while the 300 Saudi Riyal visa fee is compulsory for both Hajj/Umrah pilgrims.
Let us do some imaginary 2020 hajj fare calculations using the hajj 2019 benchmark and then add the three newly introduced items. The SR300 Visa fee (N30, 000), SR100 Insurance fee (N10, 000) and the Hadaya fee Hadaya fee of N45, 000 in approximate. This arithmetic shows that we should expect an additional N95, 000 or N100, 000 into 2020 hajj fare. This calculation is based on the assumption that the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Hajj will maintain Nigeria’s status quo on reclassification on transport charges as obtained last year. If they refuse, then the fare might be N150, 000 higher than last year
During 2019 hajj, the United Agent fee was increased by almost 100%. IN 2018, Nigeria pilgrim paid 675.575 Riyal as United Agent fee but it was hiked to 1351.15 Riyals during 2019 hajj – an increase of 675.575 SR, translating N109.908.45.
NAHCON have to plead with the Saudi Ministry of Hajj to reclassify the transpiration route for Nigeria pilgrims in order to lower the increase. That effort yielded a positive result and Nigeria pilgrims were refunded the sum of N51, 000 being the reduced priced for the United Agent fee.
It is pertinent for us to revisit the trends of new hajj policies and how it affected the preceding hajj fare of those countries. During 2018 hajj, Indonesia House of Representatives vetted an increase of 0.99 Percent in 2018 Hajj Cost. In 2017, the cost of hajj fare was Rp35, 235, 602. But in 2018 it was raised to Rp345, 290 or 0.99 percent from last year.
The head of House Commission VIII while overseeing religious and social affairs, at the Senayan parliamentary complex before 2018 hajj said “the increase is still below the tax increase and the fluctuation of the foreign exchange rate,” According to Ali, the increase was attributable to Saudi’s 5 percent tax increase, the 5 percent local government tax increase, and the country’s 180 percent fuel price hike. He explained further that higher prices of aviation fuel and the rupiah’s fluctuating exchange rate against the U.S. dollar also added to the increased hajj cost. “All of these elements have caused prices to rise for flight components, housing, catering, land transportation, and operational costs,” as reported by Tempo.com.
In Pakistan, the airfare was fixed at $1,575 for 2018 hajj pilgrims. This was based on the exchange rate of the US dollar during the hajj time. The total airfare includes the airfare 1550 US dollars, airport building charge in Saudi Arabia 174 Saudi riyal, hajj terminal service charge 30,000 Saudi Riyal, Bangladesh embarkation fee TK 575, security charge of the Saudi government 4 US dollars and travel agent commission 25 US dollars. This single item jerked up Pakistan 2018 hajj fare by almost 30%. The new hajj polices jerked up Pakistan hajj 2020 expenses from Rs436,975 paid by Pakistan in 2019 to Rs489,575 for hajj 2020 as reported by Pakistan today recently.
NAHCON, State Muslim Pilgrims Board and private tour operators should educate Nigeria pilgrims on the benefits and cost implications of these new hajj policies introduced by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Such enlightenments should detail how, why and who is responsible for what. These are very important given the controversy previous hajj fare has generated, despite the comprehensive explanations that do follows such announcement. Otherwise, the mischief marketers will say that the outgoing board of NAHCON hiked the fare before they exit hajj house, or that the new NAHCON boards have jerked up the hajj fare before they even collect the key to hajj house.
Secondly, NAHCON needs to engage the Saudi Hajj authorities on the need to consults hajj participating countries before hajj policies that require additional costs are initiated and cemented. Hajj participating countries should be given options opting out or accepting such value-added services, especially the 100 Saudi Riyals Insurance policies.
The key steps involved in developing policies is to first identify the need or the anticipation of need, marked down who will take the lead responsibilities, gather necessary and related information, draft the policy then consult with the appropriate stakeholders especially service users or beneficiaries. This is because policies are most effective if those affected are consulted and have the opportunity to consider and discuss the potential implications of such policy. It is after these vigorous steps that such policy can be finalised and approved for implementation.
Hajj fare has become a thorny issue in Nigeria and any policies that will involve hiking the fare will certainly have a backslash in the numbers of pilgrims from Nigeria.
While the Muslim Ummah acknowledged the commitment and efforts of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosque in transforming hajj/Umrah services for the benefit of pilgrims, they should also be wary of peculiar challenges faced by some hajj participating countries when it comes to costing hajj fare. Other Muslim dominated countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Iran and Egypt can afford to seek for their central government assistance or subsidy to bring down hajj fare. Nigeria pilgrims will have to pay for every penny computed in hajj fare.
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