IN a society that is steeped in corruption and deceptive ways, it should be no surprise to find pilgrims to the holy land of Makkah being cheated by those very people who are charged with arranging their visit. There has been no dearth of scandals, in the previous years, where the Haj pilgrims were fleeced out of their hard-earned savings or otherwise poorly treated in different aspects of their visit. However, this year seems to take the cake, reflecting the far more blatant instances of lining the pockets that have become a norm for both the high and low running the affairs of the state, since the induction of the present political set-up in the country. The first case of a serious fraud to come to light a few days ago was the hiring of a run-down or even half constructed accommodation at more than double the market value of rent and located at a long distance. Against the going rent rate of around 1,500 Saudi riyals for such places, it was learnt, the Pakistan Haj officials chose to hire them at as high a charge as 3,500-3,600 riyals. It was no less a personality than Saudi Prince Bandar bin Khalid bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud who brought to the notice of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry that although he was willing to offer an accommodation that was better, cheaper and nearer the Haram, the Pakistani officials did not accept it and opted for a more distant and worse housing. While the earlier doubts that the letter might have been faked in the name of the prince stand removed by confirmation sought through diplomatic channels, the story of another scandal has also surfaced. The 4,500 Haj forms that the Saudi government is supposed to have given to Pakistan free of cost, most likely to facilitate the pilgrimage of Pakistanis who could not afford the expense and yet were keen to perform the sacred duty, were, first, allegedly sold by the Haj Ministry to tour operators, who made a killing by selling them to intending pilgrims. The figures, reported in the media, are Rs 20,000 to Rs 80,000 taken by the Ministry and as much as Rs 300,000 by the tour operators. It is a matter of shame that the shenanigans of our bureaucratic and political leadership should be exposed by a highly respected royal figure of a friendly country. The shame is all the greater that the sufferers were unwary pilgrims who are, in the main, from the poor and middle classes. But would the government still be claiming that the tales of corruption in the corridors of power are mischievously and deliberately floated by its opponents to malign it in an attempt to unseat it?