Local media Mihaaru on Sunday reported that they attained possession of documentation which showed that the majority of the 1,000 additional Hajj quotas allocated to Maldives by Saudi Arabia was distributed to leading members of then-governing Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).
According to Mihaaru, the documents state that the quotas were distributed to ministers that served during the former administration, and parliament members and political figures at different levels during the previous government. Additionally, certain members of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs received slots as well.
The official quota allocated from Saudi to Maldives is 1,000. However, for the past four years, Saudi granted an additional 1,000, thereby providing more opportunities for Maldivians to make the Hajj pilgrimage.
Saudi granted Maldives the additional 1,000 quota late in 2018, by which time those that had attained the initial opportunities were already in Mecca.
Islamic Ministry and Maldives Hajj Corporation Ltd did not disclose details about how the subsequent additional quotas were allocated.
According to the documents Mihaaru received, Islamic Ministry decided to allocate 900 to Hajj Corporation due to difficulties faced by independent companies to send pilgrims on the quota. The remaining 100 were distributed to two independent companies.
Furthermore, the documents revealed that the Islamic Ministry chose the locals who won slots from the 900 quota allocated to Hajj Corporation. Mihaaru alleged that this was done without regard to those that had already made payments to the corporation to make the pilgrimage.
Included on the list signed by then-Islamic Minister Ahmed Ziyadh Bagir on August 9, 2018 and given to the corporation were 143 quotas allocated solely to PPM members serving in the parliament. Additional slots were reserved for ministers, owners of independent institutions and to certain leading members of companies.
Certain individuals had 10-15 reservations allocated.
Although Ziyadh's first listing requested 900 pilgrims to be sent, the Hajj Corporation decided to send 400 due to shortage of time.
Mihaaru reported that the contents of the letter sent by Ziyadh to former Managing Director of Hajj Corporation Idhurees Ismail on August 12, 2018, included a list of 259 people requested by the corporation and a list of PPM parliamentary group members. Ziyadh reportedly requested in the letter for the corporation to organise the trip with the people included in the lists.
Current Managing Director of Hajj Corporation Ismail Hameed stated on the matter that the corporation had sent a total of 960 pilgrims last year, including from both the official and additional quotas.
Hameed revealed that investigations thus far concluded that 50 percent of the quotas were allocated to individuals at different levels in politics. He stated that the current policies in deciding recipients of the pilgrimage slots pave way for such discrimination.
"Quotas were allocated in a vastly unequal manner", said Hameed.
Maldives' policies on distribution of pilgrimage quota slots is left to the Islamic Ministry, and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) marked this as problematic in their report released the week prior.
While ACC had identified the issue, an ACC member received slots from the secondary quotas issued last year.
According to the ACC report, the regulations were being changed almost on an annual basis by the Islamic Ministry. Whereas the 2015 pilgrimage policy stated that 50 percent of allocated slots must be given to the Hajj Corporation, 2017's implemented policy made the amendment that the Islamic Minister decides the number to be allocated to the corporation.
The policy also states that the ministry can make reservations without a limit to the amount of slots being distributed by Hajj Corporation.
ACC stated that there are no current implementable regulations regarding the pilgrimage reservation slots and selecting of pilgrims.