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Austerity kicks up copter storm for PTI

Updated August 29, 2018

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The photo of Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and his family members aboard a private plane surfaced on social media on Tuesday.
The photo of Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and his family members aboard a private plane surfaced on social media on Tuesday.

LAHORE: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government has played down the use of helicopters by government officials for travel, terming it ‘official prerogative’ that does not go against the watchword of the austerity campaign it has initiated amid much fanfare.

The air travel of the new rulers hit the headlines on Tuesday after photos of Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar along with his family members on a private plane surfaced on social media. Earlier on Monday, the chief minister had used an official helicopter for his private tour to Mian Channu in Khanewal district to condole a friend on the demise of the latter’s father. He also travelled to Islamabad from Lahore by helicopter.

Meanwhile, it also came to light that Prime Minister Imran Khan and first lady Bushra Imran are using an official helicopter for travel between their private Banigala residence and the Prime Minister House.

Defending PM’s helicopter ride between Banigala residence and Prime Minister House, Fawad Chaudhry draws a distinction between VIP culture and security protocol

As the news about the use of helicopters spread, a debate triggered on social media about Prime Minister Khan’s claims of taking ‘austerity’ measures and living a simple life. While the public questioned the contradictions in the premier’s words and deeds, his party leaders deflected the criticism, saying there was nothing wrong with the practice.

Punjab Information Minister Faiyazul Hasan Chohan said the chief minister’s use of helicopter for travel did not go against the spirit of the austerity drive. He was of the view that it was a ‘routine’ matter and using these modes of travel was chief ministerial prerogative and there was nothing wrong with it.

Coming to his party chief and prime minister’s defence, PTI’s leader from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Muhammad Ali Khan tweeted: “Those unduly criticising PM @ImranKhanPTI for the use of Helicopter from PM house2 Banygala must know that 1.Using Heli for 3min Fly is more CHEAPER fuel consumption wise considering at least 5 to 7 vehicles of necessary Security to be used instead 2. More SAFE 3. No Traffic BLOCKAGE.”

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry in a press conference held at the main hall of the Press Information Department (PID) in Islamabad on Tuesday also tried to defend his party on the use of official helicopter.

Responding to a question about why Mr Khan was using the official chopper for travelling the distance of a few kilometres [between his private residence and the PMH], the minister said the prime minister used the official helicopter to avoid a traffic jam on the roads of the federal capital.

“We have two options for travelling of the prime minister — by motorcade of the prime minister, that can cause traffic blockades or by helicopter,” he said. “There is a difference between VIP culture and security protocol,” Mr Fawad said after rejecting an allegation that frequent use of the official chopper by the prime minister constituted VIP culture.

“In fact the prime minister uses official helicopter on weekends and reaches his residence in four minutes,” he said, adding that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s food was transported from Islamabad to Murree on an official helicopter.

The information minister maintained that the use of the chopper was a cost-effective option and claimed that the three-minute flight between Banigala and PM House cost as low as Rs55 per km. “I have seen this on Google,” he claimed while replying to a query in this regard.

Transfer of DPO

Meanwhile, Punjab Information Minister Faiyazul Hasan Chohan on Tuesday said that neither the chief minister nor Banigala had a role in the transfer of the district police officer (DPO) of Pakpattan, saying that the transfer was ordered by the inspector general police due to public complaints against the officer.

In his maiden press conference, Mr Chohan claimed that the IG office had been receiving public complaints against the DPO and his transfer was an internal matter.

The Punjab government, he said, would be working on three cardinal principles — honesty, merit and responsibility. As per instructions by Prime Minister Khan, he added, each and every minister would do his utmost to provide good governance to the province.

Giving the example of bad governance by the previous government, he said over 44,000 policemen were performing protocol duties, who had now been released for routine duties.

The provincial minister for information also promised to ensure implementation of the right to information law. “The law would be fully implemented at least in the province and transparency would be ensured at all costs,” he pledged.

“Putting former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz on the ECL was a matter of supremacy of law, not political victimisation,” he said, adding that the PTI government was there to end corruption and stop flow of money abroad. “Over Rs1,000 billion is laundered every year. Preventing that is the major priority of our governance,” said the minister.

Syed Irfan Raza contributed to this report from Islamabad

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2018