Don’t reinvent wheel, leave umrah to us, says MATTA

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) has urged the government not to place the umrah (pilgrimage) travel service under the purview of Lembaga Tabung Haji, saying there is no reason to “reinvent the wheel”.

Shahrulnezam Mohd Daud, who is MATTA Vice-President of umrah and haj, was responding to a call from the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) for such packages to be managed by the pilgrims fund.

CAP made the suggestion following the recent fiasco involving the cancellation of a contract by the tourism and culture ministry to Integrated Manasik Monitoring System (Imams) Sdn Bhd to provide visa processing services for pilgrims, just one day after it was launched.

“The amount lost in umrah scams average RM5 million per year and is very much lower than the RM5 billion losses suffered by one million Malaysians through money game investment scams for this year alone,” Shahrulnezam said in a statement today.

He added that MATTA could continue to be the main player and take further action to contain such losses by the pilgrims.

“Most of the culprits were middlemen or individuals acting as freelancers that disappeared after collecting large sums of money.

“Such risks could be reduced by holding licensed umrah tour operators accountable for the action of sub-agents, be they tour agencies or individuals representing them.”

According to Shahrulnezam, the vast majority of umrah pilgrims, numbering several hundred thousand, travelled without incident every year.

“For many years, those operating umrah tours must obtain an ‘outbound’ licence from the tourism and culture ministry and recently, only outbound tour operators with ‘lesen khas umrah’ are authorised to do so.

“As such, the necessary safeguards are already in place, and there is no need to reinvent the wheel,” he said.

Imams made mandatory then cancelled

Last Saturday, tourism and culture ministry secretary-general Rashidi Hasbullah was reported to have said that Imams would be discontinued just a day after it was launched by Deputy Tourism and Culture Minister Mas Ermieyati Samsudin.

The system was designed to prevent Muslim pilgrims from being conned by fraudsters, with the Umrah Regulatory Management Council saying it was mandatory for all 65 travel agencies accorded the muasassah (umrah special licence) to adopt and comply with the system.

Rashidi told Astro Awani that the decision to cancel Imams was made following brickbats from the public and feedback from industry players.

The Imams service would have cost applicants a total fee of RM90.10, which included fees for processing, a takaful insurance scheme and the 6% GST rate.

At the launch last Friday, Mas Ermieyati was reported to have said that the system would better manage the umrah pilgrims, strengthen its regulatory management system and snuff out errant operators.

The Puteri Umno chief later attributed the cancellation to complaints that it would incur additional costs to perform the umrah.

Shahrunezam said the 65 Matta members would be greatly affected by any action taken to change the status quo on umrah travel.

“It would be unwise and irresponsible to dismantle such an established mechanism and put hundreds of small and medium enterprises, especially Bumiputera tour operators, and thousands of employees in jeopardy.

“It would be difficult for Bumiputera tour operators in the private sector to compete and stay in business if any other government agencies take over,” he said.

MATTA President Tan Kok Liang supported this view.

He said: “While it is a priority to combat fraudulent umrah packages, it is still important to take the welfare of private sector tour operators into consideration to safeguard the interests of Bumiputera tour operators and for the benefit of the industry.”