ISLAMABAD: Amid the burgeoning political crisis and an economic downturn, the prime minister has made another ‘exception’ that is bound to raise many eyebrows. PM Nawaz Sharif has approved the purchase of a 2400cc Mercedes-Benz car for the attorney general (AG) of Pakistan.
Salman Aslam Butt, who is the current AG, is considered a personal favourite of Mr Sharif’s, as he represented the PM and his family members in several cases between 2012 and 2013. The Sharifs have been cleared in most of these cases.
According to documents obtained from the finance ministry, the AG – who is the principal law officer of the country – is entitled to a vehicle “as admissible to a judge of the Supreme Court”. Except for the chief justice of Pakistan, all judges of the apex court are allotted 1800cc cars.
While the AG maintains that 2400cc cars have been used by his predecessors, two former AGs told Dawn that they had only used 1800cc Honda cars while in office.
AG is entitled to only a 1800cc vehicle, same as a judge of the Supreme Court
The Mercedes-Benz E250 will be the third ‘expensive’ car the PM has approved since May of this year. The earlier purchase of two BMW 760Li High Security sedans cost the national exchequer over Rs224 million.
According to information available with Dawn, Jangu Khan Rajput, the AG’s secretary, wrote to Mr Javaid Aslam, the secretary to the prime minister, on August 4 regarding the provision of a 2400cc vehicle for Mr Butt. Under normal circumstances, the AG office routes such requests through the law ministry.
The very next day, on August 5, the prime minister approved the purchase of a 2400cc vehicle for the AG.
On August 18, the AG’s secretary conveyed the prime minister’s approval to the law ministry and asked the ministry to release Rs13 million as a “technical supplementary grant … for the purchase of a Mercedes-Benz E250 sedan car”.
The law ministry reportedly sent the request back to the prime minister with the observations that, “the entitlement of a vehicle for the attorney general of Pakistan is as admissible to a judge of Supreme Court of Pakistan which is 1800cc, while the prime minister has approved a vehicle of 2400cc.”
The ministry proposed two courses of action: firstly; the prime minister could approve an 1800cc car for the AG, or, secondly; he could enhance the AG’s vehicle entitlement from 1800cc to 2400cc “with clear instructions as to whether the 2400cc car is to be an E250 Mercedes or any other cheaper local/foreign brand.”
On August 22, according to documents available with Dawn, the PM “approved the proposal … with the direction that a 2400cc car may be purchased as per the prescribed rules.”
Subsequently, the law ministry forwarded this matter to the Finance Division and requested it “to take further necessary action in the matter as per laid down rules/regulations/procedures.”
The Finance Division, on September 19, suggested that “if the Law Division considered (it) necessary to obtain certain clarifications, the case may be taken up with the Cabinet Division.”
Sources in the Finance Division told Dawn that the federal government has already provided the AG with an 1800cc Honda car and there seemed no need for the purchase of a new Mercedes-Benz specifically for the law officer’s use.
Sources said that judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts, and even the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court, use 1800cc cars for official purposes.
Talking to Dawn, AG Salman Aslam Butt said that the purchase of a 2400cc car was not unprecedented, as his predecessors, namely Chaudhry Farooq, Aziz A. Munshi and Makhdoom Ali Khan had also been using 2400cc cars.
Mr Butt also told Dawn that this vehicle would be used for official purposes only and that he had his own private car for personal use.
However, former AGs Makhdoom Ali Khan and Irfan Qadir told Dawn they had only used 1800cc Honda cars while in office. However, Mr Qadir said that as the highest law officer in the land, the AG could ask for a 2400cc car.
Mr Makhdoom Ali Khan said that the car he had used while in office – between 2001 and 2007 – was an old Honda Civic, purchased in 1994.
Published in Dawn, September 25th , 2014