‘Chopper ride cheaper than car’: Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s air commute draws ridicule

International Politics

Even as the Pakistan government is trying to generate revenue through means such as auctioning luxury cars, prime minister Imran Khan has been mocked for taking a helicopter into Islamabad most days, after declaring he would eschew luxury perks.

Information Minister Chaudhry argued that the helicopter uses less fuel than a motorcade, saying at one point it cost only 50 rupees (40 cents) per kilometre.

That calculation provoked ridicule.

“Why don’t you stop metro bus service and instead let people enjoy the cheap helicopter rides?” quipped a TV host.

In fact, Khan’s helicopter costs about 200,000 rupees ($1,633) per hour factoring in fuel, crew, maintenance and inspections, Syed Naseem Ahmad, president of the Society of Air Safety Investigation Pakistan said.

Khan has promised to cut costs, including trimming motorcades of government officials and selling public land.

“It is a change of mindset,” he said in a speech on Friday. “I will be counting every single rupee I have to spend on me.”

Khan’s campaign, however, has been somewhat undercut by his near-daily helicopter commute from his home in the hills surrounding Islamabad.

Optics aside, analysts say Pakistan will have to take more painful policy cuts in government spending to truly reduce the deficit. The new government on Monday did raise gas prices by 10 to 20 percent.

The luxury cars’ auction on Monday raised about 200 million rupees ($1.6 million), government official Mohammad Asif told local Geo TV. That is just one-tenth of the amount he had predicted, and only 61 of just over 100 vehicles were sold.

The event had been billed as part of Khan’s drive to give “the nation’s wealth to its rightful owners”. Critics say most of the measures so far are more symbolism than significant savings.

Critics say the cost-cutting so far has been mostly cosmetic. “There is nothing new in the current austerity drive,” said political commentator Raza Rumi.

Auctions of ageing government vehicles, for example, have taken place for years, with less publicity.

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