EXCLUSIVE: Cabinet Committee Approves Rs 88m To Upgrade PM's Lahore Helipad Despite Austerity Drive

EXCLUSIVE: Cabinet Committee Approves Rs 88m To Upgrade PM's Lahore Helipad Despite Austerity Drive
The standing committee of the Punjab cabinet on law and order (SCCLO) has considered and approved nearly Rs 88 million to upgrade the helipad used by prime minister Shehbaz Sharif at Model Town in Lahore, The Friday Times (TFT) has learnt. 

Sources privy to this development confirmed to TFT that, subject to fulfillment of legal and codal formalities, the amount will be transferred in Asaan Assignment Account of the Lahore deputy commissioner (DC) from a block allocation of the home department. 

A senior bureaucrat who was part of the meeting told TFT that SCCLO was briefed on the matter in its 26th meeting held on 13 January 2023, during Parvez Elahi’s tenure. In the meeting, it was decided that the upgradation cost of the helipad was approved and would be financed ‘in principle’ from a block allocation of the home department. 

“In the January 13 meeting, it was decided that the deputy commissioner Lahore will share the cost estimate, received from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), with the home department,” the senior official said. 

Interestingly, this matter was taken up a day before dissolution of Punjab assembly on 14 January 2023, while Parvez Elahi was chief minister. Elahi used to criticise Shehbaz Sharif and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) but did not object to this wasteful spending of taxpayer funds for refurbishing a helipad in Model Town. 

Sources confirmed to TFT that in the 2nd meeting of the caretaker SCCLO on 22 March 2023, the rough cost estimate of pavement, generators and control room, lighting system and civil works for the helipad - amounting to Rs 87.344 million - was shared by the deputy commissioner. The amount was thereafter approved by the SCCLO. 

Wastage of money amid austerity drive 

A senior officials familiar with this development maintained that it was a wastage of money to renovate the helipad to equip it for night flights, at a time when the country is passing through financial crisis. Such “unjustified spending” did not make sense when the government was making all out efforts to get financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and also enforcing an austerity drive on all sectors. 

“On one hand, the PM is running an austerity drive at the federal level in order to cut costs, while on the other hand, he is getting the amount approved to upgrade the Lahore helipad for flight operation at night, just for his personal ease,” the senior official said. 

Sources maintain that in conditions of ever-increasing inflation, where Pakistan’s financial resources are quickly diminishing, such luxurious expenses that had no benefit to the public at large were "not worth it". 

“Prime minister Shehbaz Sharif should have set an example and led from the front. He should have curtailed this cost, which is nothing but an unnecessary burden on the national exchequer,” a senior official said. 

Upgradation of helipad for night flights 

Sources added that this helipad is being renovated so that the PM’s helicopter could land in Lahore at night time as well. Currently, the PM’s helicopter can only land in daytime.

Senior bureaucrats in Punjab have demanded that the prime minister take notice of this and, instead of wasting nearly Rs 88 million on the upgradation of this helipad, divert this money to any other public welfare project. 

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy. He also hosts the Hassan Naqvi Show on Naya Daur.