Singapore "hopeful" about request to raise official haj quota this year: Yaacob

Singapore's request to raise this year's official haj quota from 680 to 800 "has not met with any resistance" from the Saudi authorities, said Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, on Jan 18, 2014. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM&nb
Singapore's request to raise this year's official haj quota from 680 to 800 "has not met with any resistance" from the Saudi authorities, said Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, on Jan 18, 2014. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM 

Singapore's request to raise this year's official haj quota from 680 to 800 "has not met with any resistance" from the Saudi authorities, said Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, on Saturday.

Dr Yaacob, who is leaving for Saudi Arabia later on Saturday to attend the haj ministerial meeting, told reporters that he is hopeful about Singapore's request, in view of its population growth.

The Saudi government temporarily reduced the quota of all pilgrims by 20 per cent last year because of the major development and upgrading works near the Holy Mosque in Mecca.

"I am hopeful because I think the signs are that it is on track to be completed," said Dr Yaacob, referring to the upgrading works in Mecca. "We have put in a request to increase our official quota from 680 to 800 and it has not met with any resistance," he added. "If we can at least get our official quota to change from 680 to 800, it will be a good start."

Officially, Singapore can send 680 pilgrims each year, or 0.1 per cent of its Muslim population. Prior to 2012, when development and upgrading works in Mecca began, extra goodwill visas were also given out. In 2011, Singapore had 1,500 goodwill visas in addition to its quota.

Dr Yaacob said "it may be a stretch" to expect the additional 1,500 goodwill visas because the construction work is still ongoing. "So I am taking a gradual approach and I hope we can convince the minister then at least we have the extra 120 places and more Malay-Muslim families can attend," he said.

He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the launch of Mendaki's flagship tuition programme for the year. At the event, the Malay-Muslim self-help group also announced that its social enterprise arm will run three more school-based student care centres.

"We will need a lot more student care centres for kids who do not have home supervision to ensure their work is being done and they get other enrichment programmes in the afternoon instead of just going home," said Dr Yaacob, who is also the Minister for Communications and Information.

"As much as Mendaki is concerned, we will continue to focus on education because that is our priority... and through greater specialisation we can help the community move forward in one go," he added.

Started in 1982, the Mendaki Tuition Scheme aims to provide quality tuition at affordable rates to help weaker primary and secondary students attain better results in their school and national examinations. This year, 8,183 students have enrolled in the scheme. It has taken in over 180,000 students to date.

In the lead-up to national examinations, intensive revision clinics are also held on top of the regular classes. Mendaki intends to start these "early intervention" classes earlier as some students need longer preparation time. They will start after the June holidays instead of August.