LAHORE – From the PML-N’s perspective, the incumbent administrative set-up is ‘chosen on merit from the best available’, but many a time it has been found to be slacking falling on the verge of recklessness, which it did again for Chief Minister’s official helicopter, quoted as perfect instance of red-tapism at the highest level. For a quite long now Shahbaz Sharif has been made to travel on a rented helicopter, causing dent to the provincial exchequer, and he has expressed his bitterness about the Federal government for not entertaining his request for an official carrier. Sources divulged that the provincial government owns two aircrafts and a helicopter– primarily meant for VVIP movement –while the chopper requires compulsory overhauling after specified flying hours. The scheduled hours expired in due course, but the concerned kept sleeping sans doing the requisite prior to halting of the operation of the flying machine owing to the expiry of hours. After the eventuality, a committee was constituted for outlining a proposal and issuing a tender since as per the requirement – the overhauling is to be carried out by qualified and registered companies of international ranking.
‘This exercise did not turn out to be fruitful since the company, which offered its services and was also finalised for the task, had expertise of probing plane crashes’, confided the source, requesting not to be named.
The process of publishing tender was repeated in more specific terms, but so far nothing has come out of the exercise. Consequently, CM’s chopper stands grounded, as it cannot be allowed to fly without overhauling. Now, when Shahbaz Sharif has to make emergent or pre-planned visits to far-off places, the provincial government has to submit a request for hiring-on-rent a helicopter from the Federal government, which is either given from President’s fleet or the PM’s. ‘This arrangement is made at a rate of Rs 1,10,000 per hour, which is continuing for quite a long time now, and the provincial administration has paid more than Rs 16 million so far’, mentioned the source, observing that this money could have been spent on so many other things provided the babus would have acted on time.
In addition to this, one cannot ignore the fact that the charges of overhauling are multiplying with the passage of time. ‘As per conservative estimates, an amount of over Rs 200 million is required at this time. When it will be done, nobody knows’, added the source. Earlier, due to the Taseer-Sharif tussle starting in September 2008, an aircraft got rusted in hangers when the Governor’s House under late Salman Taseer and the Services and General Administration Department under Shahbaz Sharif wrestled for its administrative control. The S&GAD’s VIP Flight Maintenance and Operation Cell and the Aviation Flight have the responsibility to operate and maintain two aircrafts and helicopter respectively. Through an amendment in Rules of Business, the financial and administrative control were withdrawn from the Governor, and given to the provincial department. During the Governor’s rule spanning 30 days, the control was reversed, and with its end, the political government got it back. The act was further cemented in next fiscal year’s budget, when current expenditures of the Flight Cell were placed at the disposal of the S & GAD.
Out of these two jets, one purchased by Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo has been grounded for over seven years when it got redundant after hanger’s roof landed on it. Since then, the government is paying Rs five lakh per month as parking fee. The PML-N government during its first year, made a futile attempt to sell the damaged jet, which could have brought Rs 400 million to the provincial kitty. Last year, against a tender was published in dailies, and it fetched price of US$100,000, which was turned down by Shahbaz Sharif upon advice that ‘since the offered price is very low, its spare parts should be in other aircraft’. The official source was of the considered opinion that now the province was in such a tight situation that it cannot actually afford buying a new jet for the CM. Also, it would create a huge stir in political circles, especially opposed to the PML-N. However, he did not rule out the overhauling of the helicopter, which is possible in some time. ‘Till then, the CM will certainly be travelling on rented jets’, he concluded.- Nation