ISLAMABAD: The crises for the government emanating out of acute shortage of forex reserves seem to keep coming, as empty coffers are now set to impact arrangements for the upcoming Haj.
The ministries of finance and religious affairs are mulling solutions as the country has no dollars to pay Haj expenses to Saudi authorities.
The development came after Finance Minister Ishaq Dar chaired a meeting to review progress on Haj Scheme, 2023 on Saturday. Mr Dar was informed that against the earlier anticipated amount of $90 million, the total requirement for Haj expenses will be around $270-280m, to be paid in USD.
One of the options under consideration was to surrender around 40,000 seats out of the quota of 179,210 assigned to Pakistan by Saudi authorities for this year’s pilgrimage.
The government would be forced to take this drastic measure as its scheme to pay Haj expenses in US dollars failed to get traction among the pilgrims.
Ministry considers surrendering ‘leftover’ seats; ‘sponsorship scheme’ fails to get traction
Under the ‘sponsorship scheme’, announced in light of the dollar shortage, the government expected to raise between $150–180 million, reducing the reliance on the central bank’s reserves to pay for Haj expenses.
The meeting was informed that not only 15 per cent of seats offered in the sponsorship scheme have been availed. The religious affairs ministry had divided the quota of 179,210 individuals equally between private sector Haj operators and the government’s scheme.
Of the government’s share of 89,605 seats, 45,415 were earmarked for the sponsorship scheme — for pilgrims willing to pay for the package in US dollars.
However, only 6,000 individuals have applied under the sponsorship scheme, according to the religious affairs secretary. The ministry had opened 13 foreign currency accounts in different banks and even extended the deadline up to April 4 to facilitate the beneficiaries of the sponsorship scheme.
On the other hand, 72,869 applications have been received for the regular scheme against 44,190 seats.
The religious affairs ministry has suggested accommodating pilgrims availing the regular scheme on the unutilised quota of the sponsorship scheme, but only if the finance ministry assures of covering the expenses in USD.
The finance minister assured the religious affairs ministry that pilgrims will be facilitated in every possible manner.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2023
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