After taking suo motu notice in response to the barrage of complaints from Hajj pilgrims, a letter to the Chief Justice from Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Bin Abdul Aziz and allegations of corruption, a hearing finally took place on Monday to get to the nitty gritty of the Hajj fiasco. A six-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry listened to the Religious Affairs Minister confess that indeed corruption had taken place in Hajj arrangements this year but that it was decidedly less than the corruption seen over the past few years. It sounds like Mr Hamid Saeed Kazmi is trying to justify the actions that have taken place under his ministerial watch by calling corruption in something so sacred a usual occurrence, while presenting his own mea culpa by claiming reduced corruption.
It is indeed shameful that this year thousands of Pakistani pilgrims were made to stay in shoddy accommodation, located far away from the holy site and deprived of basic facilities like electricity, sanitation and water. It is even more shameful that the minister is trying to paper over this scandal. Justice Ramday’s observation is apt that even if the minister is not directly involved in corruption, the fact that it occurred under his watch and that of other prominent ministry members means that the buck stops with them. The fact is that those responsible must be made to pay. Therefore, the minister will hopefully be held accountable. Also put on the watch list is Religious Affairs Secretary Agha Sarwar Qazalbash who has been told that he cannot leave the country without first obtaining permission from the prime minister. Rao Shakeel, DG Hajj, has also been put on the exit control list. These measures are all well and good but they should be the first in a long line of reprimands and punishments.The government, when appointing anyone, should take care that it does not give anyone with a criminal record a chance to make mischief, e.g. the task of hiring accommodation was given to a Mr Ahmad Faiz Muhammad Shafi who has a criminal track record. It is no secret that many in positions of power are fond of taking kickbacks and commissions but having a criminal record is a travesty that should never be allowed.Everyone responsible for the Hajj scam should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, from the minister downwards. Stamping with corruption something as sacred as the holiest of pilgrimages must be dealt with firmly. Only then can we extend ‘cleansing’ to other areas – Dailytimes