The Government has convened a stakeholders conference in Accra to discuss a draft bill that will establish a National Pilgrims Authority.
The role of the Pilgrims Authority when established is to, among other things, coordinate, regulate, license and supervise the activities of persons and institutions engaged in matters related to pilgrimage in the country.
The Minister of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, Mrs Elizabeth Ofosu Agyare addressing the conference, said the establishment of a National Pilgrims Authority will help reduce some of the challenges religious groups, particularly Muslims, were confronted with in their quest to visit Mecca.
She noted that the objective of government was to ensure that undue delay, financial difficulties, stress and other bottlenecks that had characterized the organisation of previous pilgrimages by Muslims would be curtailed.
She said Muslims will be given special attention as a result of the large numbers involved. “It appears that Muslims have large numbers who embark on the Hajj annually, compared to other religious groups in the country.”
The Minister further assured all other religious groups of government’s continuous support.
A representative of the Chief Imam, Sheikh Osman Nuhu Sharubutu in his submission commended the government and the committee for the work done so far, but expressed the fear that the establishment of a body that will have an oversight responsibility by an Executive Secretary appointed by the President could interfere with the operations of the Authority as an independent body.
He stated that an attempt by government to put all religious groups under one authority was not going to augur well for the smooth operation of pilgrimage as each of the religious groupings had their own peculiar challenges, particularly the Muslims.
He therefore called for an independent Hajj Authority which will be managed by Muslims, saying that this will prevent any political colorizations.
The Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Alhaji Collins Dauda in his remarks called for broader consultations by the committee, and said the views of stakeholders were necessary to identify some of the challenges previous faced, in order to find workable solutions.
The General Secretary of the Christian Council of Churches in Ghana, The Rev. Opuni Frimpong on his part, questioned the composition of the governing body and stated that it will be unnecessary for the Authority to have an executive secretary who will be appointed by the President.
On the issue of funding, he argued that it will not be prudent for government to provide assistance for pilgrims but that funding could be generated by the various religious groups who were capable of coordinating and facilitating their own pilgrimages.
Mr. Mohammed Amin Lamptey, a past member of the Hajj Board, on the other hand, asked for consensus building between government and stakeholders, as any matter of public interest was also of equal importance to the government.
He noted that government had always offered some form of assistance to Muslim groups who had embarked on the Hajj to Saudi Arabia, and for that matter it will be unfair if anybody would want to de-link government from pilgrimage affairs in the country.
The conference brought together stakeholders including some ministers of state, representatives from the Office of the National Chief Imam, Chairman of the Christian Council of Ghana, Rev. Dr. Fred Degbe who is also the chairman of the committee drafting the bill, Muslim Students Association and representatives from the Catholic Bishops Conference.
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