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If you ask me – the price of Hajj tickets recently announced by the Commission overseeing pilgrim affairs in the Gambia is simply unacceptable. On a presser with journalists recently, Alhaji Ousman Jah, in charge of pilgrim affairs in the country disclosed that packages for the 2018 Hajj season vary from D290,000; D280,000; D270,000; D260,000 and D250,000 respectively. In 2017, the cost of hajj was pegged at 210,000.

It is worth reflecting on this year’s Hajj, where six operators were licensed to partake in hajj operations – Gambia International Airlines (GIA), Banjul Travel Agency (BTA), Continental Travels Agency (CTA), Tivaon Travel Agency (TTA), Orbit Travel Agency (OTA), Travel Express Agency (TEA) and Alpha Travels Gambia Limited (ATG Ltd).

We should also remind ourselves that the sole purpose of liberalization anyway is to free up the system from monopoly, in that competition brings about cheaper prices, thus better value for consumers. In Gambia case, or Hajj in this instance, the opposite appears to be true, as ticket prices miraculously shoot up.

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For comparative reasons looking over the border in Senegal, the next-door neighbour charges much less for intending pilgrims from that country. Question is, why the disparity in pricing given close proximity; yet no serious questions put to the Hajj operators themselves preoccupied with a profit  motive. I am not against people or travel firms making a gain going about business, however, for such an annual sacred exercise in spiritual encounter, the profit margin should be removed; at least less pronounced.

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Across the Atlantic in the UK as to offerings to Saudi, a survey of both ZamZam Travel Services and Premier Hajj respectively are found to attach similar costs, albeit, five star stay for the 2018 hajj.

No one is pointing fingers here, but of course the situation is concerning. Civil servants salary in the Gambia (Teachers, Nurses, Police et.al) is mere peanuts. How do you then expect anyone to afford such exorbitant fees without a steal? Questions need to be asked of government as to how many free Hajj tickets were allocated by the Saudi Hajj Ministry for upward distribution to deserving elders across the country (not to government or their families). The hajj tickets should not be politicised for electioneering purposes, and that all opposition political parties are to be given a share for fair distribution to deserving citizens. There are ethical issues here but transparency is paramount!

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It is advisable for Gambia’s Hajj commission to liaise with its Senegalese counterpart & reach out to the Saudi Hajj Ministry for a special discount on Senegambia Hajj-makers in the next and years ahead. Because the status quo is unacceptable, thus exploitative.

Gibril Saine

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