(JollofNews)- This year’s Hajj package to Mecca pegged at D210, 000 equivalent to $ 4, 350, is one of the highest in the region.

Although the National Hajj Commission has just announced a reduction of D10, 0000 from the fees of D220, 000 for last year, the cost of Hajj is still very high considering the fact that accommodation in Mina plus meals and beverages are generally borne by the Saudi Authorities. Through its Feeding Policy, the authorities in Saudi Arabia made it mandatory to provide feeding to all pilgrims in Mina and Arafat at no cost.

All pilgrims regardless of country of origin are provided with free meals and beverages by the Saudi Government throughout the three days pilgrims spent in Mina. It is therefore misleading to include charges for accommodation in Mina plus three square meals in the GIA package knowing fully well that these are paid for by the Saudi Government.

In April this year, an appeal was made in one of the local newspapers by the Gambia’s Consul General in Angola to thoroughly look into the Hajj package paid by Gambians. According to Alhagie Haji Jawara, the Gambian pilgrims are paying more than others from Africa and urged the new Government of President Adama Barrow to really address this issue.

The Senegalese authorities fixed the price of Hajj last year at CFCA 2, 600, 000 (about D 182,000) which included air ticket to and from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, food, transportation and hotel accommodation cost in the cities of Medina and Mecca. Gambia being a smaller country, the question that needed to be asked is why poor Gambians are being charged more in their quest to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca every year when our country is the smallest in the region. While pilgrims in our neighboring countries are being asked to pay $ 3,000, GIA is charging us more than $ 4, 350 for the same services including the cost of round ticket, accommodation and food which most Gambians cannot afford.

One thing we noticed recently is that GIA is putting out a tender for the supply of travelling bags for the pilgrims, this is good to have the best value for money. What interest most Gambians is why they continue to give the catering for those travelling out of the country to the Libyans air catering service who are not paying taxes and have been accused of killing our youths in Libya, when there are capable Gambian caterers who can provide better services at the most reasonable price. The service for home-based catering should also be put on tender to give local caterers the opportunity to provide cheaper food and beverage packages for pilgrims inside the country.

Performing the Hajj should not be at the exclusivity of the rich and affluent, that is why the Saudi Government provides a good number of various subsidies in ticket cost, accommodation and food to help Muslims in poorer countries to make the pilgrimage successful and affordable to many. The overcrowding in hotels affecting the general welfare of hundreds of Gambian pilgrims with inadequate toilet facilities have been the subject of serious complaints in the past.

The Government should seriously consider adding two or more travel agents to bring down the large number of pilgrims into manageable groups operating under strict guidelines. This could be useful in making the Hajj successful amidst the health dangers associated with massive movements of devoted sea of pilgrims in Mina and Arafat.

A little competition in Hajj operations in this country could bring down the cost and make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca affordable to all Gambian Muslims. An increasingly growing number of ordinary people are becoming concerned about not ever meeting one of the fundamental pillars of Islam in their lifetime as the hajj tickets are being overpriced making it to become beyond the reach of the average Gambians.

By Alhagie MBO Gaye