January 23, 2012 – newsday.co.tt
There are bound to be questions and indeed raised eyebrows at the purchase of a luxury Porsche Cayenne SUV – with a showroom price tag of $925,000 – for the official use of Minister of Food Production, Vasant Bharath. Bharath defended the purchase by saying the actual price paid – after exemptions for taxes and duties – was about $400,000, which he said was comparable to the cost of other SUVs.
Porsche Cayenne SUV – Source: wikipedia.org
“People may hear Porsche and think it is a luxury car, but actually this is a four-wheel drive,” Bharath told Newsday in a story last Wednesday. “The facts are that the cost of this car was the same as a Prado,” Bharath said. “It has not cost the people of Trinidad and Tobago any more money than otherwise.”
He said that at the time he had needed to replace the existing vehicle which was six years old and had made the purchase with funds which would have otherwise had to have been returned as unspent funds to the Ministry of Finance. Bharath also argued that the car was not “his” but would stay at the Ministry whether he is there or not.
All this may be well and good, but Bharath otherwise misses the point.
While Minister Bharath described the Porsche as a Ministry vehicle, clearly it was bought for his primary use in the Ministry. Perhaps he considered it ideal as a means of transport along the rough terrain of the far-flung farming areas that he must visit as Minister of Food Production?
Also, it is our view that the purchase of a vehicle whose very name signals luxury and high living, sends the wrong message to the population, especially at a time when TT and most of the world are still trying to climb out of the 2008 Great Recession.
On Friday, the Government asked the House of Representatives for an extra $2.7 billion on top of last year’s $49 billion Budget which was already in deficit to the tune of $7.7 billion. Many citizens cannot get water supplied to their houses, struggle to put food on the table in this era of ever-rising prices and face a tightening job market where contract work is the order of the day.
So, why should taxpayers now have to pay for such a high-end vehicle for the Minister? Mr Bharath, like any Minister or elected Member of Parliament, already enjoys hefty exemptions on taxes and duties that allow him to buy a vehicle for his own use, both in his personal and professional/political roles.
If he has a taste for top brand name vehicles, he should buy one in his personal capacity using his own funds. As much has been done by his colleague, Minister of Public Utilities, Emmanuel George.
We suggest that Minister Bharath must have had an alternative to the Ministry’s purchase of a Porsche SUV. Could he not have more vigorously explored the acquisition of a Prado SUV, purchased for the Fifth Summit of the Americas and Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)?
The Opposition has asked whether the purchase met the scrutiny of the Audit and Exchequer Act, especially whether there was due oversight by the Ministry’s relevant public officials. We would also caution Ministers that they are all subject to the Integrity in Public Life Act which frowns on any use of public office for the advancement of private well-being.
So we suggest Government makes a public statement on this issue of the purchase of vehicles for use by Ministers and setting out the guidelines for Ministers to follow.