ISLAMABAD: It seems the much-touted ‘austerity measures’ – a popular buzzword among government functionaries – are only meant for the general public.
Dawn has learnt that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has recently acquired two bullet-proof vehicles for his security, cars that have cost the national exchequer over Rs224 million. According to documents available with Dawn, the cars will be used for the prime minister’s private security detail.
The BMW 760Li High Security sedans cost Rs119.742 million and Rs124.995 million, including heads such as custom duty, sales tax, shipping and miscellaneous charges. However, on the orders of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is considering the purchase ‘a special case’ and is readily offering tax exemptions.
“In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (b) sub-section (2) section 13 of the Sales Tax Act, 1990, the Federal Board of Revenue is pleased to exempt sales taxes on the two vehicles as a special case,” says an FBR notification issued in response to Dar’s directions.
In his earlier letter to FBR, the finance minister stated that “in view of the austerity measures, it would be desirable that customs and sales tax on these vehicles be exempted which will considerably save the cost”.
Bullet-proof sedans cost Rs224m; Dar approves tax exemptions
According to a government official privy to the acquisition of the vehicles, Mr Dar’s involvement in the case was unusual. Normally, the relevant department writes to FBR regarding exemptions.
In this particular case, a summary was moved by the director general of the Intelligence Bureau and sent to the Prime Minister’s Office, which demanded two high-security vehicles for the PM’s security detail.
The Prime Minister’s Office approved the purchase and the finance minister stepped in to seek tax exemptions from the FBR.
Despite repeated attempts, Information Minister Senator Pervaiz Rashid, who is also the PM’s official spokesperson, couldn’t be reached for comment.
However, the minister’s public reaction to similar procurement orders given by the Pakistan People’s Party’s former PM Raja Pervaiz Ashraf is on the record, where Mr Rashid had criticised the then-government for “lavish purchases during an economic crisis”.
He even had said that the vehicles in the prime minister’s fleet had a long life because of good maintenance. Therefore, there is no need to replace them or add more vehicles to the fleet.
The Cabinet Division’s Central Pool of Car (CPC), which manages the fleet of cars used by the Prime Minister’s Office, refused to disclose any information. An official privy to the action said that this was classified information, but admitted that the CPC possessed enough vehicles to meet VVIP duty requirements.
Under the rules, all former prime ministers are provided government-maintained bullet proof vehicles. former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had to seek orders from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to obtain one for security reasons.
He is the only public servant who has been extended this facility.
Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2014