ISLAMABAD: A number of government ministers and state functionaries alongside staff members arrived in Saudi Arabia to perform Haj onboard a special PIA flight meant for lawmakers who had to miss their last Haj flight on account of the federal budget, which was passed on Sunday.
In addition to President Arif Alvi and his family and staff members, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar, Murtaza Abbasi, and caretaker Punjab chief minister Mohsin Naqvi were among 52 pilgrims. Ninety people on the plane were regular passengers.
This is the same flight that Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had referred to during a session of the National Assembly, saying it was meant to facilitate his ‘fellow parliamentarians’.
On Sunday, Mr Dar clarified that the lawmakers were footing the bill themselves. The travel arrangements were made after Saudi authorities accepted a request from Islamabad to allow a special PIA flight for the parliamentarians who took part in the budget debate, he had said.
But it turned out not only the lawmakers, but the president, his wife, and his staff members were also onboard.
As Saudi authorities were reportedly not intimated of Mr Alvi’s arrival, airport officials did not allow passengers to disembark for about 15 minutes, one of the passengers onboard the flight told Dawn.
The authorities questioned why the “Pak-1 call sign” of the president’s special flight had not been given to the authorities ahead of his arrival.
The passenger said after 15 minutes, a convoy of black Mercedes vehicles reached the landing strip to give protocol to President Alvi.
Meanwhile, other passengers remained on the plane and were later taken to the airport lounge like ordinary passengers.
Press Secretary to President Akhtar Munir told Dawn that the president his six family members and four of his staff members went for Haj at the president’s expense and no state money was spent for this purpose.
Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2023