KATHMANDU, July 8: The Office of the President has sought Rs 160 million from the state coffers to buy an armored car and a fleet of vehicles to escort President Bidya Devi Bhandari.
Though the government has already agreed to provide Rs 40 million for the purpose, the President's office last week asked the Ministry of Defense (MoD) to arrange an additional Rs 120 million stating that the current budget was insufficient to buy the car of President Bhandari's taste.
The estimated cost is based on the initial price assessment report prepared by Nepal Army (NA) which has been asked to procure the vehicles. NA reportedly came with the proposal after holding preliminary talks with some car manufacturers.
"The President's office has notified that the Rs 40 million pledged by the Ministry of Finance is not enough. An additional Rs 120 million has been requested for the presidential fleet," said a highly-placed MoD source.
Confirming the correspondence between the President's office and NA, MoD Spokesperson Uttam Prasad Nagila said the ministry would soon decide what to do with the proposal.
He said that the budget would cover one armored car and other vehicles for security escort including two cars, an ambulance, buses and motor bikes.
"The letter has just reached the relevant department. We will study the proposal first and decide whether to seek additional budget from the Ministry of Finance," said Nagila.
Neither MoD officials nor NA provided details on the manufacturers and model of vehicles NA plans to buy for the presidential fleet.
When asked, NA Spokesman Jhankar Bahadur Kadayat declined to comment on the matter citing lack of information.
However, sources indicated that the proposed presidential ride might cost around Rs 80 million.
In that case, in term of price, the car will be as costlier as cars used by world leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Pope Francis. The China-made Honggi Red Flag Limousine, President Xi's official car, cost $ 801,624, while Putin rides a Mercedes S-Class Limousine worth $ 251,417, according to media reports. Similarly, Pope Francis rides a Mercedes-Benz M-Class car which costs $ 524, 990.
Officials questioned the need for a new presidential fleet while thousands of people affected by earthquakes continue to live in makeshift shelters more than two years after 2015 earthquakes.
"We already have a set of presidential fleet. What will happen to that? Does the president intend to take it with her when she leaves the office? Moreover, dozens of expensive cars used by former Royals and other leaders are gathering dust at various government offices. It would save scarce resources if we could use those vehicles," said an official at the Ministry of Finance, who said that his ministry will take an appropriate decision after receiving the proposal.
Similarly, questions have been raised over the motive behind procuring the presidential fleet through NA. Some doubts this might be a ploy to avoid any public inquiry.
Chief of Management Subdivision at the President's office, Hari Dawadi said that the NA was chosen due to the security agency's knowledge about such vehicles. He, however, said he was unaware of any letter sent to the MoD.
"It's not just about buying cars. Since we cannot buy cars for the head of state readily in the market, we have to order them directly from the manufacturers with specific instructions for security needs. NA was asked to initiate the procurement due to the security agency's better knowledge on security sensitivity of VVIPs," said Dawadi.