In keeping with the tradition of the last four years, Saudi Arabia has given 1,000 extra visa places – in addition to the annual allocation of 1,000 – for locals to travel to Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
On Thursday, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih confirmed that the additional visas had been received.
Following the president’s announcement, Islamic Minister Ahmed Zahir Ali tweeted that the quotas are now being allocated to different hajj tour groups.
Saudi Arabia allocates the Maldives an annual visa quota of 1,000 for worshippers to travel to Mecca. Half of the quota is reserved for the state-owned Hajj Corporation, while the rest are awarded to private groups through a bidding process.
Because of the close relations enjoyed with the kingdom during the former administration, the Maldives has been awarded an additional quota of 1,000 places since 2014 – described as “a special gift by the Saudi King”.
The hajj pilgrimage is expected to take place from August 8 to August 13.
Delays in receiving the additional visas in the last two years resulted in most of the additional visas going unused.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Corruption Commission has ruled out graft in the allocation of hajj quotas following an investigation into allegations that the committee evaluating bids by tour groups had followed questionable practices.
The ACC said on Thursday it was unable to prove that points were awarded in a way that advantaged one group over another. Proposals with missing documents were accepted because of negligence, not intention, the ACC said.
The commission, however, said tour groups were judged “subjectively” by committee members.
A corruption risk report by the ACC published earlier this year accused senior Islamic ministry officials of helping companies prepare bid proposals and of interfering in the evaluation process to give them an unfair advantage.
The report also stated that the government had reserved an increasing quota from the budget-friendly Hajj corporation for its own use.