Rs25m Mercedes Benz being purchased for Taseer

Despite serious financial constraints, a Mercedes Benz car is about to be purchased for Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s ‘fleet of vehicles’ at more than Rs25 million.

Official documents suggest that owing to the financial position of the provincial government, Rs25.4 million would be drawn in advance through a supplementary grant before the close of the current financial year as a special case, by relaxing rules.

The government of Punjab had imposed in October last year “a complete ban on purchase of vehicles, refurbishment, interior deco ration of offices, establishment of new offices, furniture and fixture, procurement of generators, air-conditioners and other luxury items etc”.

A few weeks back, the federal government slashed the Public Sector Development Programme for the current year by more than 45 per cent to Rs250 billion from the budgetary allocation of Rs446 billion because of a severe financial crisis and rising fiscal deficit, halting development activities for public welfare.

In December, the federal cabinet announced wide-ranging austerity measures to curtail government expenditure, restricted the entourage of the president and the prime minister to seven vehicles and that of governors and chief ministers to six vehicles. It also announced use of only locally manufactured vehicles and armoured vehicles for official purposes.

The approval for the purchase of Mercedes for the governor was given by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Since the expenditure is to be incurred by the provincial government, the chief minister also has approved the costly purchase in violation of his government’s policy decisions.

The policy directive issued by the provincial government bans such extravagance, envisages reduction in expenditure and calls for observing austerity and ensuring economical use of public resources.

A circular issued on Oct 9 said that any departure if warranted under ‘unavoidable circumstances’ would only be considered and recommended by an austerity committee constituted by chief minister. “The recommendations so formulated are to be submitted to the chief minister for appropriate orders.” The committee was not consulted for the procurement of the Mercedes.

Documents suggest that the chief minister initially suggested that the governor’s secretariat should request Mr Taseer to consider whether such an expensive pur chase could be postponed in the present financial situation.

However, he later sanctioned the Rs25.4 million price estimate of Shahnawaz Ltd when the governor concluded that the vehicle was critically important for carrying out official business.

The governor was of the view that since the Mercedes cars of Governor’s House were also used by VVIPs and foreign dignitaries during visits to Lahore, the new vehicle must be part of the governor’s fleet.

He said the purchase could not be postponed for an indefinite period and almost six months had already passed since the initial request.

Sources close to the chief minis ter said the new Mercedes was not justified on the basis of VVIP duties and for foreign dignitaries because bullet-proof vehicles were available in Lahore for the president and the prime minister and for foreign dignitaries.

A source close to the governor said the car being purchased would replace an old vehicle purchased in 1994 for official use. He said the old car had been declared unfit for VIP use. He said that since the federal cabinet division had conveyed the approval of the prime minister for the purchase or import of the car, there was no need for the provincial government to get its approval from the austerity committee.

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