New vehicles for DC, UNO: Is this how the govt maintains austerity?

In March this year, the government issued a circular as part of austerity measures, restricting the purchase of new vehicles. However, this decision has been reversed within a short span of five months. A new initiative was set in motion to purchase 261 new vehicles intended for Deputy Commissioners (DCs) and Upazila Nirbahi Officers (UNOs).

According to Prothom Alo, the Ministry of Public Administration justified the acquisition of new vehicles for DCs and UNOs, citing the need for seamless organisation of the upcoming parliament election. To materialise this plan, the Ministry of Public Administration prepared a proposal for the procurement of the 261 vehicles and submitted it for approval to the Ministry of Finance.

Additionally, the election commission (EC) secretariat has also expressed its intention to purchase new vehicles. Three ministries and agencies, aiming to obtain a total of 271 vehicles, sent proposals to the Ministry of Finance for approval. Out of this tally, 261 vehicles are designated for use by DCs and UNOs.

Earlier, the Ministry of Finance gave its nod to purchase more luxurious cars for government officials. On 1 August, a directive from the ministry communicated that cars valued at up to Tk 14.5 million can be acquired for the government officials, whereas the previous cap was Tk 9.4 million. Furthermore, there have been increase to the expenditure limits corresponding to vehicle prices across various stages.

Abul Hasanath Humayun Kabir, the Transport Commissioner at the Department of Government Transport, informed Prothom Alo that during national elections, deputy commissioners act as returning officers, and UNOs serve as assistant returning officers. This leads to increased mobility demands. Consequently, there has been a request for new cars. The aim is to replace vehicles older than 13 years with newer ones.

Given the ongoing political crisis around the elections, the election commission's suggestion to acquire new vehicles seems impractical. Is there any information available to the EC indicating whether the vehicles assigned to DCs and UNOs for election duty are inoperative? If they (EC) have such information, how many of those are out of order?

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According to the rules, the cars of the government officials are replaced every 13 years. But Abdul Haque, the former president of Bangladesh Reconditioned Vehicles Importers and Dealers Association (BARVIDA), said that the vehicles allocated to the DCs and UNOs can remain operational up to 25 years if properly maintained.

Ministry of Public Administration sources said that Tk 600 million has been allotted for vehicle procurement in the current fiscal year 2023-24, although the requirement stands at Tk 3.8 billion. As a result, an additional Tk 3.2 billion has been requested from the Ministry of Finance. The question is: who will provide the funds?

Economist Selim Raihan has stated that due to increasing pressure on foreign exchange and decreasing reserves, it's not a good idea to buy new vehicles for government officials. There doesn't appear to be an urgent need for new vehicles for government officials. Replacements might be necessary only if officials have completely unusable vehicles, which is not very common. Importantly, changing vehicles for DCs and UNOs doesn't always mean purchasing brand-new cars. Many autonomous organisations and development project directors use multiple vehicles, claiming urgent work. The government could consider providing DCs and UNOs with vehicles from these existing sources.

Procuring new vehicles during an economic crisis by expending a significant amount of foreign currency would contradict the government's austerity measures and result in the squandering of public funds.