Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has directed the government not to purchase 28 security vehicles intended for use by high-ranking officials.
The decision has been taken in light of the government's austarity drive.
Earlier the chief minister had approved Rs312.2 million for the purchase of 28 new security vehicles to escort VVIPs.
The sanction was provided despite the fact that when the current government was sworn in, it had announced an austerity drive which included a ban on the purchase of new vehicles. Sharif has directed the finance department to allocate funds for the vehicles in the upcoming budget for the financial year 2010-2011.
IGP Punjab, Tariq Saleem Dogar, had asked for money for 14 Toyota Land Cruisers and 14 Toyota Double Cabins, in November 2009. He claimed that the existing cars being used to escort the VVIPs have “completed their life.” Land Cruisers cost Rs18 million and Double Cabins Rs4.30 million each. The demand for new cars was made at a time when the purchase of items such as furniture and vehicles had been banned by the government. Following the IGP’s request, the finance department submitted a summary to the chief minister for approval.
Dogar said that the lives of VVIPs, including the president, prime minister, chief justice of Pakistan, chief justice of Punjab, Mian Nawaz Sharif and chief minister Punjab are being put at risk as the escort vehicles travelling with their cars have completed their mechanical life span and are not fit for ‘sensitive’ assignments. According to a report submitted by Dogar to the chief minister, the escort vehicles cannot keep pace with the VVIP vehicles and on occasions a considerable gap is created between the vehicle carrying the VVIP and the escort vehicles.
Thus the security cover is not foolproof, claimed the report. An official requesting anonymity said that the bulletproof Mercedes Benz S 600 L, Mercedes Benz G 500, BMW 760Li and Toyota land Cruiser VX and V8 are used in the travel of VVIPs during their visits to the Punjab. These vehicles are driven at the speed of 100 to 120 kilometre (km) per hour while the escort vehicles cannot be driven above 80 km per hour. Sometimes, the drivers of VVIP cars are directed by the police authorities to drive vehicles at the speed of escort vehicles, said an official.
The report said that the speed of VVIP vehicles is controlled by the police as they are responsible for the protection and security of these personnel. According to a document, 28 Toyota Double Cabin (Vigo) security vehicles are being used for escort duties. All vehicles except one, which is of 2007 make, are of 2006 make and their metre readings exceeded 150,000 kilometers.
Twenty of these cars are owned by Lahore police and the remaining eight by Rawalpindi police. Sixteen of these have been deployed with the Sharif family, including nine with the chief minister, five with Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz chief and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and one each with Salman Shahbaz and Begum Sharif. Six of these vehicles are permanently deployed with Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary, one with the Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Khawaja Muhammad Sharif and one with former chief minister and provincial minister local government and community development Dost Muhammad Khosa.
Two vehicles are at the disposal of the Governor House Punjab and two are permanently deployed with the prime minister. A senior police officer, requesting anonymity, said that the vehicles were examined on the directions of the chief minister’s secretariat. The report on the conditions of the cars was also sent to the chief minister. The officer added that a lot of double cabin vehicles in good condition were being used by senior officers while old ones were deployed on escort duties.
Meanwhile, Provincial Secretary Finance Tariq Mehmood Pasha said that the ban “does not apply to escort vehicles.” If the government refuses to purchase these cars, the performance of the police would be affected. All such cases were put before the austerity committee headed by finance minister. “I am not sure that the purchase of these vehicles was approved by the committee,” he added.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 12th, 2010.