Government has bought a new fleet of brand new Land Cruiser VX V8 cars from Toyota Zambia for Permanent Secretaries and other top officials, but Deputy Secretary to Cabinet Christopher Mvunga says the purchase is not across the board.

Meanwhile, in a related development, the National Assembly has also purchased 20 brand new Toyota Hilux units for heads of department at a total coast of about K10 million, leaving suppliers and retirees unpaid.

Sources revealed to News Diggers! that government was disposing off old units after buying a new fleet for top officials, a move that is seen to be against the recently announced austerity measures.

“How can government announce austerity measures but prioritise the procurement of brand new vehicles. What kind of austerity measures are these. They have now bought new luxury cars for permanent secretaries and top officials within government, but they are preaching austerity [measure], how does that make sense? Meanwhile, we have a debt mound swelling every month. The country has continued to borrow with no attention to debt repayment. Can you say we have a reasoning government?” wondered a source who sought anonymity.

At Parliament, just three weeks ago, they bought cars for all heads of departments at K498, 000 each. They bought 20 brand new Toyota Hilux top of the range, yet, they are not paying suppliers, they are not paying retirees. I don’t know what moral campus they are following. The heads of departments are about 16, but there is a special assistant to the Speaker, special assistant to the Clerk, all these were bought new cars when they already have vehicles. Is this moral when you owe suppliers and retirees? What are you trying to buy? Is it loyalty?”

But Mvunga told News Diggers in an Interview that the austerity measures were serious, adding that government was finalising a move to take away vehicles from all public servants below PS level.

“You see what has happened now is that we have decentralised the procurement of vehicles. Previously the vehicles used to be procured simply by Ministry of Works and Supply. Now the ministries themselves procure directly. But in terms of that purchase, austerity measures shouldn’t be impacted because as a matter of fact, we are finalising a document… what we want to do now is dispose off all government vehicles below PS level. What it means is that if these directors have government vehicles etc, these vehicles are costing us between $2.1 to $2.5 billion per year in maintenance costs. So we want to do away with that cost so that people have their own personal vehicles,” Mvunga explained.

“That means the vehicles they have currently will be sold to them. So we are just working out the modalities in terms doing the audit of who’s got which vehicle, what did it cost, so that we can work out the mechanism on what the basic price will be. So that’s one serious measure that we are taking because that will take out about $2.5 billion off costs, annual maintenance costs.”

Asked how the measure would help government save when the said public servants would draw an allowance for transport, Mvunga said there would be no such thing.

“Not necessarily an allowance, because remember what is happening currently is that if you give someone a vehicle, think about this; it means we are providing them transport to and from work, when other officers are using their own money. So what will happen is that we will keep a fleet of pool vehicles which they will use if they are traveling out of station. But in terms of moving to and from work it’s their baby, it ceases to be a government baby. The other thing is that the system also tends to be abused because for some reason, when you take these vehicles for repairs, the cost is higher than if you took a personal vehicle. So we are trying to get rid of all that mess. But in terms of procurement for the permanent secretaries, that’s standards. There is already a fleet management policy which Ministry of Works and Supply is revising.”

He said some permanent secretaries like him had not been bought new vehicles, because the latest procurement was for selected offices.

“It’s not a ‘across the board procurement’ because remember people have got vehicles at different levels, ages and whatever. So we have not done a mass procurement, except for procurement per ministry depending on the needs whether they need vehicles or not. It’s pretty selective, it’s on need basis, it’s not a global procurement. I am one of them. I have got a vehicle myself, I haven’t been bought a new vehicle. My vehicle is just over a year old. So it would be folly to buy a new vehicle,” Mvunga said.

When reminded that the Ministry of Finance was seeking supplementary budget approval in the last sitting of parliament because government was struggling with a balance of payment, Mvunga said the treasury still had money which had not yet been expended by the line ministries from last years’ budget.

“I think what people need to understand, you know the way the supplementaries come in; let us take for instance the grants, because we account on a cash basis, so there could be grants for instance which were not disbursed last year and its disbursed this year. And it wasn’t in the numbers for this year. Now to spend that money if it wasn’t budgeted for expenditure, it means you need to go back to Parliament to have it approved,” he explained.

“So it does happen at times that what was supposed to be disbursed last year ends up being disbursed this year. Now if you have got that money, you can’t spend it until you get approval from Parliament because it’s not in the expenditure. That’s a supplementary expenditure.”

Mvunga added that the new austerity measures would not allow permanent secretaries to fly business class on flights that are less than three hours.

“Some of the austerity measures have already been implemented. For instance from now onwards permanent secretaries and below will not travel business class on any flights that are below three hours. They will all travel economy. The other thing also, we are setting up a Cabinet Office travel agency which will be accredited to IATA. Because what tends to happen is that the tickets, if you get them via the agencies, you are literally paying commission. So we want to be getting the tickets directly from the airline,” said Mvunga.

“Then there is what we call mandatory travel and discretionary travel. Mandatory travel is things like the UN, SADC, AU, the normal fixed calendar events. The non discretional is where people apply to say they want to go and visit this country for a study tour and so on. So we are not approving those anymore. So will be see a drop in travel cost.”