January 25, 2023
JAKARTA – The government’s plan to introduce a rise in the cost of haj for Indonesia’s pilgrims this year has elicited a mixed response from observers, particularly since it surfaces at a time when Saudi authorities have lowered haj service prices.
This year, Indonesia’s quota for pilgrims will return to its pre-pandemic size for the first time in three years since the global health crisis forced Saudi Arabia to ban or reduce the number of foreign pilgrims.
The government told a Thursday meeting with the House of Representatives about its proposal to increase the cost of this year’s pilgrimage to Rp 69 million (US$4,604.71) per person – far higher than last year’s Rp 39 million per person.
While lawmakers have yet to agree to the proposal, observers have been quick to voice their concern over the hefty price tag and suggested that the government should cut costs elsewhere in the program.
“We urge [the government] to review its accommodation costs in Mecca and in Medina, so that [this year’s haj travel] cost can be more reasonable,” Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) deputy head Anwar Abbas said on Saturday, as quoted by Kompas.com.
Responding to the plan, Ahmad Fahrurrozi of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) central board said on Saturday that the government and lawmakers should form a team geared toward investigating how costs could be reduced.
“The Religious Affairs Ministry, the BPKH [Haj Fund Management Agency] and the House should form a team that will carefully calculate which [aspects] must absolutely be paid, and which ones can be cut,” Fahrurrozi said, as quoted by Kompas.com.
Previously, during the Thursday meeting with lawmakers, Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas said that the price hike came as part of the government’s effort to lower subsidies for haj pilgrims in order to conserve its funds for future pilgrims.
Whereas the government subsidized around 60 percent of the cost for each pilgrim in 2022, the government is looking to subsidize only 30 percent of this year’s cost.
“This proposal is based on the consideration of conserving the sustainability of haj funds,” Yaqut said on Thursday. “In our opinion, that is the most logical way to keep [the funds managed by] the BPKH from being continually drained.”
The ministry’s Haj and Umrah Management Director General Hilman Latief said in a statement on Saturday that this year’s cost for Indonesians going on the haj would have been more expensive had Saudi authorities not cut the price of their haj service by 30 percent.
“The ministry has successfully negotiated for [this year’s haj service] to be valued at 4,632 Saudi riyals [$1,233.48]. It’s a 1,024 riyal decrease [from last year], or about 30 percent,” he said.
Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, struck a deal with Saudi authorities earlier this month to reinstate its pre-pandemic haj quota of 221,000 for this year’s pilgrimage season.
Indonesia sent just over 100,000 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia in 2022 under strict health guidelines. They were required to be fully vaccinated and present negative results from PCR tests taken at most three days before their departure.
Haj season is set to begin on June 26 this year.