Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — The Ministry of Haj submitted an integrated project for the restructuring of the Tawafa Establishments to the Council of Minister last week. The project is to identify the relevant characteristics of the establishments besides defining their executive tasks.
Dr. Bandar Bin Muhammad Hajjar, Minister of Haj, revealed this while addressing a “Joint Responsibility Dialogue” hosted by Okaz, the sister publication of Saudi Gazette, at the newspaper group’s headquarters in Jeddah on Sunday night.
Hajjar said the ministry is reviewing the practice of passing down ownership of the Tawafa establishments as inheritance with the aim of breaking the monopoly of certain families who have inherited the business from their forefathers. This will enable the ministry to task qualified people from outside these families to run pilgrimage services.
“I know this suits some families and doesn’t suit others even though I find it necessary to deal with this matter as a reality. It should be understood that one of the considerable obstacles hampering the Haj strategies is the inheritance practice. It is simply because this practice emerged from a system that is more than 70 years old.
Referring to the Private Guides Establishment he said the ministry is working on a new project creating competition among the various establishments involved in the Haj service in the best interests of the service seekers — the pilgrims and Umrah performers.
Hajjar said women participated in the last elections to the boards of Tawafa establishments and they will have a bigger role in the ministry’s future strategy. The ministry’s budget for the new fiscal year covers 50 jobs for women.
He also announced that the ministry is working on a 25-year comprehensive strategy for the development of Haj services. The annual increase in the number of the Umrah performers and pilgrims necessitated this strategy. The ministry deals with 10 million pilgrims, Umrah performers and visitors from inside and outside the Kingdom in addition to 5,000 local and foreign Haj and Umrah companies yearly.
He said a team comprising representatives of seven ministries and organizations, including the interior, foreign, health, transport, Haj, the Commission for the Development of Makkah and the Holy Sites and the Commission for the Development of Madinah in addition to private research and investment companies tasked with working out this strategy, have set out the guidelines of this strategy, which will be finalized by the end of this year.
Speaking about the details of the e-track for Haj, which was approved by the Council of Ministers last Monday, Hajjar said the e-track project links the ministries of interior, foreign, Haj and General Authority of the Civil Aviation (GACA) to one track.
He said the project enables the pilgrim before issuing the Haj visa to select the standard and level of the service that suits him, including the housing. Thus he can deposit the fees of these services electronically. This will also enable the embassies, consulates and the Saudi Passport Department to coordinate in fingerprinting the pilgrims, which can be done in home countries. This prevents the pilgrims’ crowding at the Kingdom’s entry points. It also saves the pilgrims’ time as they will not need to stop at any of the air, land and air checkpoints.
Hajjar said another advantage of the e-track system is that it allows pilgrims to deposit all fees for Haj services electronically and avoid the need for handling millions of paper checks issued to cover pilgrims’ expenses. The system also puts an end to the problem of bounced checks.
Hajjar said the ministry has adopted strict measures to prevent unauthorized entry into pilgrims’ camps in Mina at night.
He said nine companies have applied to the ministry for the “low-cost Haj” program and for housing pilgrims registered with them outside Mina.
He said the Hanafi School of Thought permits the pilgrims to spend the night outside Mina as is the case with the Turkish pilgrims.