Needy families in Singapore affected by pilgrimage postponement
More than 200 from needy families in S'pore affected by accommodation issues
He emptied his savings account to fund his and his wife's umrah pilgrimages at the end of the year.
The man, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ahmad, 51, was very disappointed when he heard that his trip had to be postponed to March due to accommodation issues.
Mr Ahmad had engaged the services of Mr Suwandi Marchuke from Bil Hikmah Consultants LLP in April to arrange for his umrah pilgrimage as the consultant company had designed a package that catered to the less fortunate. (See report below)
Umrah is a minor pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and can be performed at any time of the year.
On Nov 7, more than a month before they were set to leave for Mecca, more than 200 pilgrims were gathered by Mr Suwandi at Hajjah Rahimabi mosque to be told the bad news.
Said Mr Ahmad, a father of four: "I'm only a despatch rider and my wife is a housewife. We scrimped to make ends meet and managed to save enough for the both of us to go."
Mr Ahmad paid a registration fee of $300 for both of them and later paid the remaining $3,996 in full.
"We just hope that our refund will be processed as soon as possible," he said, adding that he will be looking for another organiser.
The package that the Bil Hikmah consultant offered also allowed pilgrims to pay the amount in instalments.
That was the main reason Madam Salbiah Idris, 49, engaged its services to arrange for her and her husband's pilgrimages end of this year.
"It was my first time going overseas, so I put my full trust on Suwandi. Especially since I saw that he successfully organised the pilgrimage last year," said the mother of four.
The housewife said that the first sign of trouble was when Mr Suwandi called them together.
"It was close to the time when we were supposed to apply for our visas, but I felt something was wrong when Mr Suwandi told us not to bring our passports," said Madam Salbiah.
When Mr Suwandi said that the trip was going to be postponed, she was initially afraid that she would lose the money she had deposited.
"It wasn't easy saving up money. My eldest daughter, who is only 23, works full-time so she gives me money every month. I used that money to pay for the instalments," said the mother of four.
Madam Salbiah paid a registration fee of $300 and then a sum of $3,996 for her and her husband.
"I'm not that angry about the situation. I understand that mistakes happen and I take it as a test from god," she said.
Madam Salbiah said she will continue to trust Mr Suwandi.
"I'm willing to give him a chance and wait till March. I hope he can get everything sorted out by then," she said.
I'm only a despatch rider and my wife is a housewife. We scrimped to make ends meet and managed to save enough for the both of us to go.
- Mr Ahmad, 51, who hopes for a refund soon
I have no intention to cheat anyone: Organiser
The package by Bil Hikmah Consultants was specifically designed to give pilgrims from low-income families a chance to fulfil their pilgrimages in Mecca, said organiser Suwandi Marchuke.
It includes food, accommodation and transport for pilgrims and it cost $1,998 per person, a vast difference from the market rate of about $3,000.
The difference in the prices is sponsored by a consortium of oil and gas companies across the Causeway as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility programme, claimed Mr Suwandi, who said he has links with the consortium.
Last year, Mr Suwandi arranged 64 pilgrimages under the package.
Following that success, the consultant, who is also an owner of a scaffolding company, was approached by veteran singer Aziz Ahmad to organize a pilgrimage for his fans.
Mr Aziz, who could not be contacted yesterday, told Berita Harian that his role was only to gather his fans for the trip and he had nothing to do with the planning of it.
In the end, 218 people signed with Mr Suwandi.
"I was very optimistic that everyone will be able to go," he said.
After collecting money from the pilgrims, he engaged a pilgrimage service in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and paid more than US$300,000 ($420,000) in deposits for the pilgrims' transport and accommodation.
However, two months before the group was supposed to depart, the consortium, whose members declined to be named, could not confirm the amount that they could commit to.
Mr Suwandi told The New Paper that because of the delay, he could not confirm his accommodation booking.
"When I confirm the booking for the accommodation, I already need to pay the full amount.
"How can I do that if the consortium hasn't got back to me about how much they are sponsoring?" said Mr Suwandi.
Unfortunately, the consortium could sponsor only an amount of $360 each for 150 pilgrims. By then, most of the accommodation was fully booked and pilgrims had to be scattered into different hotels.
"It will be so inconvenient for the pilgrims if they are separated. We will need to engage different caterers and it would also mean additional transports costs," he said.
Mr Suwandi immediately consulted Mr Aziz in Johor Baru, where the latter is residing.
The pair decided to postpone the trip so that they could accommodate all the pilgrims in the same hotel.
Mr Suwandi said: "I have no intention to cheat anyone of their money. I gave them an alternative to postpone the trip to either March, May or December next year, that's all."
He said that at least 128 pilgrims have decided to postpone while the rest asked for a refund.
"I am definitely willing to refund their money back, but these processes take time, so all I need is a bit of patience from pilgrims," he said.