CASES of Malaysians becoming victims of umrah travel fraud are not new. Like a recurrent disease, they have surfaced every year in the last 10 years. The tragedy is that although reports of such fraudulent practices are often published, the cases continue to pile.
Last Thursday, a Malay daily reported that in the last five years, at least 3,714 people fell victim to rogue travel operators. The total claims filed with the Consumer Claims Tribunal during this period breached the RM30 million mark. More are expected to be filed.
The umrah travel industry has seen a surge in recent years. In 2011, at least 136,000 Malaysians went on their umrah. According to official figures released by the tribunal, 37 complaints were filed in 2009. This number increased to 155 in 2010 and 164 in 2011. The figures show a frightening trend — as the industry grows in size, so, too, does the problem.
There is a long list of “reasons”, the most common being a combination of ignorance and “too trusting” attitude by the pilgrims, compounded by the authorities’ lack of seriousness and consistency in resolving the cases.
Recently, Tourism and Culture Deputy Minister Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin said as of last year, 3,400 cases of fraud umrah travel packages had been filed with the tribunal, involving RM20.77 million. In addition, 216 fraud cases have been filed with the police, involving RM9.1 million. On enforcement and punitive action taken against rogue travel operators, 11 companies had their umrah licences revoked and RM240,000 in fines have been imposed and collected.
The ministry’s portal has revealed the identities of the companies whose umrah licences have been revoked under the Tourism Industry (Tour Operating Business And Travel Agency Business) Regulations 1992, passed under the parent law, the Tourism Industry Act 1992.
A check at the official portal of a Saudi agency also revealed a list of umrah travel agents in Malaysia approved by the Saudi Haj Ministry.
They include familiar names like Andalusia Travel, Gemilang Travel, TH Travel and Tiram Travel. The important point to remember is that Malaysians intending to buy an umrah package must do his homework before parting with his money.
Two years ago, Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz cautioned the public that if a travel agency offered RM4,900 and below for a standard 12 days, 10 nights umrah package, “it is likely to cheat”. He said this after announcing the set-up of Majlis Kawal Selia Umrah (Council for Umrah Supervision) to tackle umrah-related fraud.
While the public welcomed the move, past experience tells us that it is difficult to get work done when the task is given to a committee.
How then to deal with the problem?
Section 415 read with Section 417 of the Penal Code provides the answer — the perpetrator should be arrested and charged with the offence of cheating, which carries a penalty of up to five years’ jail, a fine or both.
In June last year, in England, a director of a haj travel company was found guilty and sentenced to 12 months’ jail by the Birmingham Crown Court. Mohammed Arfan, of the Birmingham-based Al-Safah Tours Ltd, was earlier charged with 16 offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008) and the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992.
While a custodial sentence may constitute an appropriate punishment for the rogue travel operator, it does not help the victims. A law is only half good if its objective is merely punishing the guilty offender; it must also provide redress or compensation for the victims.
A colleague suggested umrah travel operators be required to contribute a sum annually (like a levy) to a central fund (perhaps initially established with a grant from the government), from which some measure of compensation can be paid out to victims. He explained that the idea was modelled on a current system where good and honest lawyers were compelled to contribute annually to a fund managed by the Bar Council, from which compensation could be paid to members of the public who became victims of rogue lawyers.
Alternatively, the existing law regulating the industry should be revamped to allow the court to confiscate the assets of convicted rogue travel operators and make them pay compensation to victims on a case-by-case basis.
Salleh Buang formerly served the Attorney-General’s Chambers before he left for private practice, the corporate sector and, then, academia.
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SAUDI ARABIA has decided to lift from this year the reduction in the quota of Haj pilgrims imposed five years ago. It said the higher authorities approved a proposal by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, deputy premier and minister of interior who is also chairman of the Supreme Haj Committee, to restore the pilgrimage quota that existed prior to the cuts.
Minister of Haj and Umrah on Thursday thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, Crown Prince Muhammad, and Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman for lifting the reduction in the quota of both domestic and foreign pilgrims. He said that the concerned authorities have made preparations to receive the additional number of pilgrims for the forthcoming Haj. Bantan said this while receiving heads of Haj delegations from Arab and Islamic countries at his office in Jeddah.
The authorities imposed a 20 percent cut in the quota for foreign pilgrims coming from each country while the number of people allowed to perform Haj within the Kingdom was reduced by 50 percent to ensure the safety of pilgrims during the largest ever expansion in the history of the Grand Mosque, which is nearing completion, as well as the expansion of mataf (circumambulating area around the Holy Kaba) and massive projects at the Holy Sites.
Crown Prince Muhammad asked all concerned departments to get ready to receive a larger number of pilgrims for the upcoming Haj. He instructed to give the Haj missions opportunity to increase the number of pilgrims so as to restore the quota in a phased manner. The Crown Prince said that the exact number of pilgrims coming from each country will be decided by the Ministry of Haj and Umrah. However, he assured that the decided quota for every country will remain intact. Under the quota system that came into effect decades ago, a country is allowed to send only one Haj pilgrim for every 1,000 Muslim citizens.
A number of Haj missions in Jeddah congratulated the Saudi leadership for restoring the Haj quota. Speaking to Saudi Gazette, Indian Consul General Mohammed Noor Rahman Sheikh welcomed the decision, saying that it is a great move. “The Indian Haj Committee could accommodate only one fourth of the applicants after the quota cut. “The reduced quota for pilgrims under the Haj Committee was 100,020 but the number of applicants exceeded 400,000 last year. A total of 136,020 Indian pilgrims performed Haj during the last five years after imposition of a cut in quota in 2012, and they included 100,020 under Haj Committee and 36,000 who come through private tour operators,” he said. India’s quota for Haj-2012 was 170,000, but later the year the government reduced the quota by 20 percent.
Sheikh also said that launching of mobile app for Haj in India will be a further boost in streamlining the Haj operation.
“The app will complement with the integrated mobile app launched by the Jeddah Haj mission,” he said.
The Indian Haj Mission was the first foreign mission in the Kingdom to come up with an innovative Global Positioning System (GPS) application during the Haj of 2014.
India’s Union Minister of State for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi launched at India’s Haj House in Mumbai last Monday the mobile application which will provide information and facilitate e-payments for the pilgrimage.
“It is for the first time that Haj application process is going to be digital,” Naqvi said. Applying for Haj, enquiry and information, news and updates and e-payment are the main features of the app. The application can be made directly on the app. Five adults and two infants can apply as a group.
JEDDAH — Iran, which boycotted last year’s Haj after refusing to sign an agreement organizing the fifth pillar of Islam, has been invited to send its pilgrims to perform Haj this year.
Iranian officials acknowledged the receipt of the invitation letter and said they were willing to discuss all Haj-related issues with the Kingdom.
A source said the Kingdom reiterated that it welcomes all Haj and Umrah pilgrims regardless of their race or religious sects. He said that Haj regulations equally apply to all pilgrims, including Iranians, without any disparities.
The source said the ministry has sent similar letters to its counterparts in 80 countries asking them to send their representatives to the Kingdom to discuss Haj arrangements for their pilgrims.
Iran last year refused to sign the document on the organization of Haj and asked that its pilgrims be allowed to organize gatherings and demonstrations which the Kingdom totally refused. Iran subsequently prevented its more than 60,000 pilgrims from proceeding to the Kingdom for Haj.
However, more than 700 Iranians living in the US, Europe and other countries came for Haj last year and were warmly welcomed by Saudi officials.
Great Mosque in Makkah to get automatic sliding glass doors
Sunday, 11 December 2016
The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia announced a new development project to build in place automatic glass doors on the walls of the third premises expansion to connect new buildings and the ones overlooking the northern side of the mataf (circumnavigation) area.
Director of the Grand Mosque’s Doors’ Department Mohammed Batti said that the skillfully decorated doors will effectively contribute in administrating and controlling the mass worshippers and pilgrims particularly during peak times, according to Makkah newspaper.
Adding that the doors, which will be utilized to organize the entry and exit of the pilgrims between the third expansion and the mataf area, will be operated in line with the implemented crowd management plans.
JEDDAH — Saudi Arabia and India signed the Annual Bilateral Haj Agreement for Haj 2017 here on Wednesday.
The Indian delegation was led by Minister of State for Minority Affairs (Independent Charge) Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and the Saudi delegation was led by Minister of Haj and Umrah Mohammed Saleh Bantan.
Naqvi expressed gratitude to the Saudi Ministry of Haj and Umrah for increasing the quota of Indian Haj pilgrims from 136,020 to 170,025 for Haj 2017.
During the discussion with the Saudi delegation, the Indian minister conveyed appreciation for the Haj arrangements for the Haj 2016 and assured full cooperation for the success of the Haj 2017.
The meeting was attended by Ambassador of India Ahmad Javed, Consul General of India Md. Noor Rahman Sheikh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Minority Affairs Jan-e-Alam, Deputy Consul General and Consul(Haj) Mohd. Shahid Alam, and Deputy Secretary, MOMA, Aftab Alam.
Member of Parliament and Chairman of Haj Committee of India (HCOI) Choudhary Mehboob Ali Kaiser; Chief Executive Officer, HCOI, Ataur Rahman; General Manager, Air India, Rajneesh Duggal; and a representative from Private Tour Operators were also present during the signing of the Bilateral Haj Agreement 2017.
MADINAH — As many as 1,444,765 pilgrims have arrived in the Kingdom since the start of the Umrah season early November, local daily Al-Watan reported on Monday quoting the branch of the Haj and Umrah Ministry in Madinah.
The ministry said that a total of 1,350,559 pilgrims arrived by air while 90,285 by land and 3,921 by sea.
According to the ministry, Pakistanis constitute about 30.61 percent of the pilgrims who are visiting Madinah followed by Indonesians (17.91 percent), Indians (11.81 percent) and Malaysians (8.21 percent).
Undersecretary of the ministry Mohammed Abdul Rahman Al-Bijawi said since the start of the season the ministry has been making intensive tours of government and private establishments offering Haj services to make sure that pilgrims are properly served.
Sewage at Miqat Mosque near Makkah pollutes surroundings
Jan 18, 2017
MAKKAH – The Miqat Mosque in Jurana along the Makkah-Taif Highway is surrounded by sewage water, spreading bad smell, causing environment pollution and creating problems for thousands of pilgrims who pass by the mosque to pray and put on their ihrams.
The mosque is situated 25 km away from Makkah. Jurana is actually the name of the well where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) took bath and wore ihram to perform Umrah while returning from Taif. Beside the mosque signboards have been installed to indicate the starting point of Haram.
Residents of Jurana have expressed their dismay over the National Water Company’s negligence as NWC has not taken any action to prevent surfacing of sewage water around the mosque that is visited by a large number of pilgrims every day, especially during Haj and Umrah seasons.
They emphasized the need to construct sewage networks in Jurana. The network has reached a few kilometers away from the mosque. Many pilgrims visit the place because of its historical importance.
District chief (umda) Yahya Al-Hilali attributed the surfacing of sewage water around the Miqat Mosque to NWC’s failure to construct sewage network in the district. “This has forced some citizens to link the district with the network illegally,” the umda told Okaz/Saudi Gazette.
He urged the company to complete construction of sewage networks in the remaining Makkah districts to avoid creation of swamps that serve as breeding grounds of disease-carrying mosquitoes.
“The network has reached close to Jurana and I hope the company would link the district with the network as early as possible to end environment pollution,” he added.
Saud Al-Otaibi wondered why NWC was not taking any remedial action to prevent the surfacing of sewage water around the Miqat Mosque.
“Most pilgrims wish to visit this mosque being part of the Islamic heritage. It’s the duty of NWC and other government departments to keep such historical places in the best form in order to protect them as well as to impress visitors and pilgrims,” Al-Otaibi said.
Many pilgrims visit the mosque to follow in footsteps of the Prophet (pbuh) and pray there.
Musfer Al-Malki, chief administrator of Jurana, said some Jurana districts have got sewage networks five years ago. “It stopped at the public road opposite the mosque. We have presented several complaints but authorities did not take any action to complete the network.”
Okaz/Saudi Gazette informed the company about residents’ complaints and worries but it did not respond.
This cannot be undone and I am sure it will be greatly appreciated.
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