Pakistan splurges Rs.6 bn on choppers for VIPs


Islamabad : Pakistan is to spend a whopping Rs.6 billion on purchasing helicopters for its VIPs at a time when the poor and needy are deprived of basic necessities.

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The federal government is spending Rs.5.3 billion on five choppers, two of which will be used for VIPs and three for emergency services, including relief and rescue work.

This apart, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government has spent Rs.500 million on purchasing a helicopter for the provincial governor, The News reported Friday.

“While the poor and needy are dying for basic necessities like flour, the government is lavishly spending billions of rupees of the taxpayers’ money on bringing prohibitively-expensive travel comforts to VIPs,” the newspaper added.

Former secretary (Cabinet Division) Ghiasuddin told The News that the order for the five helicopters had been placed prior to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani assuming office in March 2008.

“Only in recent years, in addition to two VIP business jets costing billions, a fleet of more than 40 bullet-proof limousines was bought for over Rs.3 billion for bigwigs,” the newspaper pointed out.

“Key government functionaries, including top defence officials and spymasters, followed suit and secured highly-expensive bullet-proof limousines,” it added.

Documents show that the federal government has struck a deal with the Italian AgustaWestland Company for purchasing five AW-139 helicopters for $67.47 million (Rs.5.3 billion) excluding duties and taxes. Two of these twin-engine choppers are meant for VIPs and the remaining three for use in emergencies for rescue and relief operations.

“An official, while defending the extravagant purchase, argued the government had only one operational Bell-412 twin-engine helicopter for VIPs. Another is under repair. In view of this situation, he believed, it was deemed fit to buy two new choppers for the president and the prime minister,” The News said.

The helicopters will start arriving in April.

According to a document of the NWFP administration department, a helicopter for Governor Owais Ahmad Ghani has been purchased for 4.8 million euros (Rs.500 million).

“Duties were to be paid on the purchase of this VIP chopper but the governor succeeded in getting an exemption certificate from the Federal Board of Revenue,” The News noted.

“Arbab Arif, secretary to the governor, was not available on his official number. An Administration Department source, however, informed this correspondent the government was in dire need of the chopper because the governor did not have one for his exclusive use,” the newspaper added.

Just a few years ago, the federal government had bought two high-priced VIP business jets, including an Airbus, for the prime minister and the president in compliance with then prime minister Shaukat Aziz’s orders.

A 12-seater Gulfstream – a more exclusive but smaller business jet – was purchased for $28 million. Under the agreement, this jet was to be returned to the manufacturer for $22 million after two years when the company would deliver a new version for $33 million.

“The money involved in the other VIP business Airbus deal is, however, not known,” the newspaper said.

“All such spending was made beyond the budgetary allocation, as was the case of the controversial purchase of over 40 bullet-proof Mercedes vehicles for VIPs, costing the public exchequer over Rs.3 billion,” it added.