Some 942 people are going to Saudi Arabia to perform hajj and to take care of pilgrims at government expense this year.
Ministers, members of parliament, members of parliamentary standing committees, top bureaucrats, ruling party activists, peons, drivers and cleaners are on the recommended list.
Some 158 persons are going to perform hajj from the locality of religion affairs minister Matiur Rahman.
Following recommendations from the offices of the president and prime minister and ruling party leaders, the authorities allegedly select additional people, violating the hajj policy.
Many people are going to perform hajj at government expense despite having financial ability, which has raised the questions about spending public money.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, religious affairs minister Matiur Rahman said those recommended by different ministries and departments, are going for hajj.
“I have to accept requests as members of parliament and politicians have called over phone and made requests. I have allowed those who applied from my locality,” he added.
“Is there any wrong with at?” the minister asked.
Some 127,198 people from Bangladesh, under government and private arrangements, will perform hajj this year.
The religious affairs ministry has formed 6 teams who will perform as well as take care of the pilgrims.
14 persons are in the hajj representative team, 15 persons in hajj technical team, 54 persons in hajj administrative team, 266 persons in hajj medical team, 182 persons for aiding doctors and 93 persons in hajj guide team.
Some 318 persons are going to hajj through the ‘state expenditure category’. And 118 persons are from religious affairs ministry, 71 from prime minister’s office and 33 from the president’s office are going to hajj.
According to the ministry, members of the teams will perform hajj as well look after hajj management. Besides, they will deliver administrative, technical and medical services.
But many of the selected people are not fit to do the job, according to the list.
According to the ministry, a total of Tk 205 million will be spent from the government exchequer. Those, who go under the team named ‘state expenditure category’ will get all facilities including air fare and food and accommodation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The representatives of other teams will get conveyance and daily allowance, amounting to Tk 8,00,000 to Tk 1 million.
According to the national hajj and umrah policy, the president, the prime minister and the religious affairs ministry can send a specific number of devoted Muslims to Saudi Arabia to perform hajj in low hajj package under the government arrangement.
Former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumdar said those who can bear the expenses should not take the opportunity from the government.
What is the necessity of such a large group? he asked. “It is unethical and illogical.”
According to religious affairs ministry, a team of 14 persons led by minister Matiur Rahman is going to Saudi Arabia to give directives for overall hajj management.
They are scheduled to leave Dhaka in a flight of Biman on 25 August. Their wives and children will accompany them. But they will perform hajj on their own expenses.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, secretary of the cabinet division NM Ziaur Rahman said, “There is no matter of ability and inability here. I am going as a representative of Bangladesh government. It is my job. The religious affairs ministry has selected me.”
The team named ‘state expenditure category’ includes members of parliament, high officials, politicians and employees of different ministries.
Among others, they are MP of Dhaka constituency-15 Kamal Ahmed Majumdar, MP of reserved seat Shireen Nayeem, MP of reserved seat of Kurigram-Lalmonirhat Safura Begum and MP of reserved seat of Mymensingh Fatema-Tuzzhura.
Of them, Fatema-Tuzzhura perfomed hajj under the expenses of the government in 2015.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Fatema-Tuzzhura said, “I do not know who selected my name. I am thinking of not going.”
MP Shirin Nayeem, elected to reserved seats for women in parliament, would perform hajj this year with the government bearing her expenses.
Asked about this, she claimed that she is financially insolvent.
“I have no means of performing hajj at my own cost as I have to take care of many party activists,” she told Prothom Alo.
Apart from some low-grade government staffers, several high-level officials, including director general of secondary and higher education directorate, Sheikh Md Wahiduzzaman, National Housing Corporation member ABM Fazlur Rahman, joint secretary of the LGRD ministry Masud Ahmed, and assistant director of Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsad Halim Munshi, among others, have been nominated for the hajj trip.
Yusuf Khan Pathan, chairman of Mymensingh zila parishad, is also on the list.
Ruling AL leaders including Jannatul Chowdhury Anonna, women affairs secretary of Uttorkhan union AL in Dhaka, has been nominated for the hajj trip.
Out of 318 persons, 81 were selected from
Mymensingh from where the religious affairs minister Matiur Rahman got elected in 2009.
The list may increase, said ministry officials.
As per the National Hajj and Umrah Policy, a 45-member administrative team was supposed to be formed. Violating the rule, as many as 54 persons have been included in the team.
The list accommodates a total of 17 high-ups of the religious affairs ministry, additional, joint, deputy, senior, and assistant secretaries of several ministries, as well as hajj office staff.
According to the hajj policy, a total of 127 physicians were supposed to go with the hajj pilgrims this year. But, 266 physicians have been selected for this year’s hajj and the number is almost double.
According to religious affairs ministry, a total of 124 people were sent to perform hajj at public costs in 2014. The number went to 263 in 2015, and 283 in 2016.
Religious affairs secretary Abdul Jalil told Prothom Alo that they had adhered to the rules and regulations.
Criticising this policy, Transparency International Bangladesh executive director Iftekharuzzaman said, this is just a matter of appeasing their own people. It is absolutely unethical. Public money should not be spent in this manner. Those responsible should be accountable for this misuse of power.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam and Imam Hossain.