- Special Pages
ISLAMABAD: Before going into elections, Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf (pictured) has a wish: to move like a real ‘Raja’ in the security of top of the line luxurious bullet-proof Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), it was learnt.
According to a tender floated by the cabinet division in newspapers on Dec 22 last year, the government wants to purchase ‘six brand new bullet-proof vehicles of latest model in Pakistan rupees or US dollars’. The advertisement said that bids for the tender would be opened by Jan 25 and successful bidders had to supply the vehicles within 30 days of the award of the contract.
The PM’s press secretary, Shafqat Jalil, said: “The SUVs are being purchased because of security concerns. Let’s not turn it into a controversy since we are purchasing the vehicles for the office of the prime minister, and not for any individual. They will stay with the office of the premier in the long run.’
A representative of a company dealing in bullet-proof vehicles said: “No company can provide such SUVs in 30 days unless it has already gone ahead with their purchase or already has a stock.”
He said the vehicles would cost around a million dollars, explaining, “An SUV is priced at least $150,000 and the cost of converting it into a bullet-proof vehicle (like installation of ballistic steel body and bullet-proof mirrors etc) will come to $50,000.”
He said the vehicles were bought from the manufacturers in Australia and later refurnished with the armoury in 20 days.
A representative of a Karachi-based firm, which imports such vehicles, said the cost depended on type and quality of gadgets fixed in a vehicle. He said usually the cost of making a vehicle bullet-proof ranged between $40,000 and $60,000.
Meanwhile, it is not clear why the prime minister’s office needs six SUVs. Currently the prime minister uses a bullet-proof Mercedes of executive model. But it is not known how many bullet-proof vehicles are in his fleet.
A security official said all the premiers had mostly used bullet-proof Mercedes cars over the years and that the protocol demands were of a car and not an SUV.
“Every prime minister takes a bullet-proof vehicle with him when he leaves office,” he said.
An official who had worked for former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani said he still used a government-owned bullet-proof vehicle and that he was entitled to do so. He asked to contact cabinet division secretary Nargis Sethi to obtain information about rules which allowed the former premier to use the vehicle.
On the other hand, the opposition PML-N criticised the government for ‘such lavish purchases during an economic crisis’.
Senator Pervez Rashid of PML-N said: “Why they are going for such a purchase when they have not bought bullet- proof vehicles over the last four years and eight months. There is something fishy as elections are round the corner.”
He said leaders should set examples for the nation during financial crisis, and added that the PML-N government in Punjab had sold all the VIP vehicles for Rs600m and spent the money on development activities.
The PML-N spokesman said 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 PM’s spokesman said the vehicles were being purchased under the rules mentioned in the Blue Book. However, he did not offer any comment when told that the government would have to pay around $1m to purchase six SUVs.