Govt teams going to KSA: To perform hajj or assist hajis?
At least 200 of the 218 officials the government is sending to Saudi Arabia to assist the Bangladeshi medical and technical team during hajj do not have any technical training or background in medicine.
Yet, the religious affairs ministry is spending taxpayers' money to send them.
The ministry is sending another "hajj technical delegation" to Saudi Arabia. But 23 of its 31 members have no technical or IT background. This delegation is supposed to assist a "hajj administrative team".
Many have said a large group of officials and employees were given the opportunity to visit Saudi Arabia in the name of technical and administrative support.
Most members of the delegations are office assistants, personal assistants, administrative officials, chauffeurs, gunmen, cops, security guards, cooks, cleaners, photocopy machine operators, typists, record keepers and support staff.
Stakeholders in the sector also raised questions about the rationale of sending a 75-member "administrative team" and a 15-member high-profile team led by State Minister Faridul Haque Khan to "oversee and coordinate hajj-related activities".
Secretaries of the cabinet division, telecommunications ministry, roads and highways, the Prime Minister's Office, and health ministry, a planning commission member, a ruling party lawmaker, and religious affairs secretary of the Awami League are in the team.
Many people who performed hajj in 2019 and before, said they hardly ever found members of such delegations when they needed them in Makkah.
Members of such delegations were almost always busy performing hajj themselves instead of looking after the pilgrims, they added.
The ministry has recently issued show-cause notices upon seven employees and officials of a "hajj administrative team" for not performing their duties at Bangladesh's hajj office in Makkah.
In several similar show-cause notices, the ministry said some of its delegates had travelled to Taif without informing the authorities.
The ministry said their activities might create a negative impression among pilgrims and tarnish the country's image.
HAJJ ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT TEAM
According to a religious affairs ministry notification, the main responsibilities of the delegation members are to provide assistance at a health clinic, ensure prompt services to patients, assist the hajj technical team, and to find the pilgrims who get lost during hajj.
But a background check of the 218 individuals named on the list reveals that 12 are chauffeurs; three are bodyguards of the state minister, attorney general and a secretary; 15 are personal staff members of different top officials, including the chief whip of parliament, Noor-e-Alam Chowdhury; and 70 are office assistants and administrative officers.
Besides, there are night guards, cooks and cleaners in the team.
A deputy director of the Department of Environment, two deputy secretaries, four senior assistant secretaries, an assistant police commissioner, a deputy police commissioner, an additional police commissioner, and a personal secretary are also going.
Several officials and staffers from the PMO, the Bangabhaban and different government offices in Jamalpur, which is the constituency of the state minister for religious affairs, are in the delegation.
Several officials of the hajj office, requesting anonymity, said the mid- and senior-level officials who become members of these delegations do not bother to carry out their responsibilities during hajj.
"They either perform hajj themselves or do whatever they want while the expenses are paid with public money," a top official at the Ashkona Hajj Camp said.
HAJJ TECHNICAL TEAM
Only eight of the 31 delegates have technical background.
The team includes an assistant personal secretary and public relations officer of State Minister Faridul, several personal staff members of Faridul's office and the public relations officer of the religious affairs ministry.
There are personal staffers, a protocol officer and several administrative officials from different ministries and departments in the technical team.
When contacted, Faridul said he did not have the time to comment on the matter while the religious affairs secretary could not be reached over the phone.
Transparency International Bangladesh Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said he wondered whether the individuals in the team had any relevance to the purpose of the delegations.
"Is it merely their link to political and governmental power that have determined their qualifications to be rewarded with the opportunity to travel abroad spending taxpayers' money?" he asked.
He also criticised the questionable expenditure amid "multidimensional economic and financial pressures facing the country".