Secretary to the Ministry of Religious Affairs Chowdhury Md Babul Hassan has denied having anything to do with alleged embezzlement of money from house of 5,000 pilgrims in Saudi Arabia during the Hajj.These pilgrims were sent to Saudi Arabia at the last moment before the Hajj. Apart from them, nearly 102,000 Bangladeshi performed the Hajj this year.“There was no time. Sending these 5,000 Hajj pilgrims was the priority at that time. It’s possible that some irregularities might have taken place. I’ve nothing to say about it,” Hassan told a press briefing on Sunday.
Minister Matior Rahaman had overseen the procedure to rent houses in Saudi Arabia, he said, adding that he ‘cannot do anything if the head of the ministry makes the decisions’.Allegations have it that Tk 60 million, including Tk 12,000 from the fee each of those 5,000 pilgrims paid as house rent, has been misappropriated.This year, an individual paid nearly Tk 300,000 for going to Saudi Arabia via private agencies. The cost of government packages was a bit less.
Facing questions about the embezzlement, Secretary Babul Hassan said he was not in Saudi Arabia when the houses were rented there.Some of the aspirants staying late at Dhaka’s Ashkona Hajj Camp were among those 5,000 who were chosen to be flown for the Hajj at the last moment.Hassan said, “The minister had left (for Saudi Arabia) first. But since I’m a government secretary and holding a permanent office, I thought I have a big responsibility. That’s why I could not go there at the time.“I had to change the date for my departure three times. I went to Saudi Arabia at a later date.We (Hassan and those who accompanied him) got visa after the houses were rented there,” he said, adding that a 10-member committee formed by Minister Rahaman had taken care of the renting procedures.He said members of the committee included the Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh’s (HAAB) elected and non-elected leaders.He told reporters that ‘some of these members played a major role’ in renting the lodgings.
The irregularities might have taken place when they rented the houses, Hassan suggested.“They (committee) did all the work. Specially, as far as I know, Mr Jamal discussed the renting issue with the minister more than anything else. He’s a former president (of HAAB), I think.”Asked whether those responsible, if the misappropriation of money was proved, would face action, the secretary dodged a direct answer.“Our minister formed the committee to rent those houses. I won’t go into discussing how much that should have cost and what happened. Because the minister supervised everything…”Asked whether the responsibility falls on him, too, as the secretary, he agreed that he was somewhat accountable. “But we can’t say anything else if the in-charge, the minister, does anything. If the government wants, it will (take action).”Minister Rahaman was absent at Sunday’s press conference. He was also unavailable for comment on the matter.The work for this season’s Hajj mission would end on Oct 28, Babul Hassan said.