Cancel Hajj Subsidy And Fix The Weak Cedi
A group calling itself the Patriotic Muslim Front (PMF) is urging government to stop funding Hajj travels and focus its attention on how to stabilize the cedi against the major currencies like the US dollar in order to make travel easily affordable.
According to the group, the reason for the high cost of the Hajj fare to Mecca was largely due to Ghana’s weak cedi, a situation which has made the pilgrimage to become extremely expensive and unbearable for the ordinary Muslim.
Addressing a press conference in Accra on Tuesday, December 6, the group noted that, instead of government funding or providing subsidy for the Hajj pilgrimage, it should concentrate on solving the core problem by stabilizing the cedi.
They said that, solving the cedi’s weak performance against the dollar will automatically bring the cost of travel to Mecca, which is one of the pillars of Islam, to a bearable level.
“…In as much as we oppose subsidy of Hajj pilgrimage, it is equally imperative for government to acknowledge the fact that pilgrims are helpless when it comes to monetary forex policies. If not for the exchange rate, Hajj fare would have been lower and affordable like other jurisdiction.”
“In the spirit of this argument, Muslims Umma through PMF is appealing to government to arrest the dollar in order to give more window for intending pilgrims to adequately prepare for payment,” it said.
The Anchor has gathered that, this year, for example, the trip to the holy land cost some GH₵39,500, equivalent to US$5,000, a situation the Patriotic Muslim Front (PMF) described as unacceptable, blaming it solely on the weak cedi.
The spokesperson for the group, Mohammed Adam Haruna, said the situation has become dire as it is threatening many Ghanaian Muslims, whose wish is to fulfill this requirement of Islam.
He lamented that even those whose wish is to support their families and loved ones are finding it difficult to do so because of the unending fall of the cedi.
“…..We have observed the manner in which Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) has been organized in the last few years and the upward adjustments of the fares which has generated a lot of debate with the PMF calling for its reduction. Quite frankly, many Ghanaian Muslims whose ambition of going to Hajj or sponsoring their loved ones is being threatened by this development. Unfortunately, however, the value for money remains constant.
“Investigations by PMF revealed that the fares primarily jerked up by prevailing factors including exchange rate, but for the first time in nine years, the total package in 2022 went up by 100 percent from GH₵19, 500 to GH₵39,000. According to the nine years date on hajj fares analyzed by PMF, “Cost of exchange rate in Hajj,” he said.
He said even though pilgrimage to Mecca is not compulsory, many Muslims want to perform that task by themselves and not from sponsorship from government because of the harsh economic situation.
He went on to give figures of the past travels from 2013 to 2022, pointing out the shocking increments in this year’s trip in particular.
“PMF analysis of official documents from Hajj Board showed that there were no significant changes of the dollar components of the Hajj fares in six years. In 2013, for instance, the Hajj fare package was US$3,450 which became GH₵5,800 at the exchange rate of GH₵2.01 to a dollar. In 2014, the package was US$3,450, which translated into GHc3. 00 to a dollar. In 2015, the package remained unchanged at US$3,450, which became GH₵11,900 at the exchange rate of GHc4.07 to a dollar.
“Again, in 2017, the package was US$3,450, which became GH₵15,000 at the prevailing exchange rate of GH₵4.40 to dollar. In 2018, the package slightly rose to 3,500 dollars, translating into GH₵19.500 at exchange rate of GHc5.30 to a dollar.”
He continued, “In 2019, the package remained US$3,500 which again translated into GH₵19.500 at the prevailing exchange rate of GH₵5.38 to a dollar. Unfortunately, pilgrimage to Makkah in 2020 and 2021 was suspended due to COVID-19. But for the first time in nine years, the Hajj package, in 2022, went up by 100 percent from GH₵19.500 to GH₵39. 500 which translated into US$5,000, despite the economic challenges, pilgrims still pay higher than what they paid in 2019.
“This means that if the current prevailing exchange rate if Ghc14.70 to a dollar remains constant in 2023, the package will shoot up by over 100 percent. The cost of major components of Hajj package which includes air fare, Makkah and Medina accommodation, transportation and United States fees have also been increased slightly which automatically will affect the package for 2023.”
Alhaji Haruna diagnosed that the situation can only be blamed on the incompetent handling of the national currency, because, in Mecca, where he mostly frequents, their official currency, the Saudi riyal, has remained stable for years.
He predicted the next Hajj, which is going to be handled by the Sheikh I. C. Quaye-led National Hajj Board, is even going to be increased further as a result of the continuous depreciation of the cedi.
According to him, their study of the trend shows that, in 2023, pilgrims will pay as much as GHc100,000.00 to travel to Mecca and back.
“PMF is reliably informed that the Hajj package for 2023 is likely to be increased from US$5,000.00 dollars to US$7,500.00 due to Cedi depreciation and other prevailing factors aforementioned. Ladies and gentlemen, in effect, Pilgrims shall be paying over GH₵100,000.00 due to the free fall of the Ghanaian Cedi. Friends from the media, the analysis of the data show that the upward adjustments of the package is largely influenced by prevailing exchange rates which in most cases government subsidies or intervenes for the Board to negotiate a favourable exchange rate for the Hajj activities to help make the trip affordable.”
The group warned they will be forced to take series of action against government if it fails to intervene to improve their plight.
He further implored the Hajj Board to ensure that, in future, beginning 2023, packages for Hajj are announced early enough so that potential pilgrims can have ample time to prepare.