Govt to buy more Mercs

December 5, 2014, 2:51pm

Govt to buy more Mercs

GOVERNMENT is waiting for a new fleet of 28 top -of-the-range Mercedes-Benz vehicles as an addition to nine ML 500 sport utility vehicles (SUV) delivered two months ago.
The Minister of Works and Transport Erkki Nghimtina confirmed to The Namibian yesterday that the new government will be provided with a new fleet of Mercedes-Benz vehicles. 
Although it is not clear how much government will spend this time around, last year it paid about N$20 million for 25 Mercedes-Benz sedans. 
Among the 25 were 13 E200 Mercedes-Benz cars for regional governors before Kavango was split. Others were for the National Assembly speaker and his deputy; the National Council chairperson and vice chairperson; the Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister. 
The Namibian understands that the PM received E400s, which was the latest model of the E-class then. 
Nghimtina defended the acquisition saying the practice is not unique to Namibia but is common worldwide. He also said it would not be reasonable for incoming ministers and others to drive in vehicles that have been used by others because they will also pay for the cars. 
“Honestly, you cannot give people old cars. We are paying for the cars and they are expensive,” he said, without providing details of the number government intends to buy.
Ministers are taxed 1,5% of their official car's value and they are given the option to buy the car from government when their five-year term expires at a reduced price. 
The low prices are determined by deducting 12% off the car's value for every year the minister uses it and also N$100 for every 1 000 kilometres on the clock. If a minister wants to buy the car it must be done within two months of receiving the new official vehicle.
Nghimtina could not say how much it will cost or the makes and models of the vehicles apart from admitting that they want Mercedes-Benz vehicles. 
According to Nghimtina, giving out figures would distort the picture since it is not clear how many cars will be needed for politicians, since the next President might increase his executive. 
He, however, said ministers, deputies, the National Assembly Speaker and the deputy Speaker, chairperson of the National Council, the vice chairperson and some members of the judiciary will all receive new cars. 
The current government has 23 ministers, 21 deputies and two directors general at the National Intelligence Service and National Planning Commission.
It is understood that the size of Cabinet would increase, with the President-elect already confirming that there will be a new ministry for state-owned entities. 
Nghimtina also said the acquisition of new vehicles was supposed to be done a long time ago but government was yet to decide which models and makes were required since some of the older Mercedes-Benz models have been phased out. 
“It will depend on the taste of the next president,” he said, adding that the President will have the final say on what cars to buy.
Talking about tastes, former president Sam Nujoma banned the use of Mercedes-Benz vehicles in 2002, insisting that ministers and deputies should use Toyota Camrys.
Before the ban, ministers and deputies were allowed to order official vehicles of their choice through the government garage, provided they were within a set budget. 
The amounts could, however, buy an E-Class Mercedes-Benz for a minister and a C-Class for a deputy minister hence many of them opted for these models. 
When President Hifikepunye Pohamba took over, government chose to do away with the Toyota Camrys for ministers and upgraded the fleet to S60 Volvos, while deputies remained with the latest models of Toyota Camry.
The move to Volvos was largely credited to the then Prime Minister Nahas Angula, who was encouraging trade with Sweden because of its immense contribution to Namibia and Swapo during the liberation struggle. 
Since it was a government to government deal, and the fact that buying and maintaining Volvos was cheaper than other luxury vehicles, Angula easily convinced Cabinet. 
The Volvo dream was, however, short-lived when government decided to go back to Mercedes-Benz vehicles in 2010. This time, deputy ministers also qualified for the E-200s, while the ministers were given E300s.
Last year, however, a sharper taste was shown when Pohamba's fleet was beefed up with at least three S-Class limousines - the top of the range sedan model of the Mercedes-Benz family, costing between N$1,2 million and N$2,5 million in South Africa. 
While the practice of buying official vehicles for the executive branch of government is conducted once every five years, it was surprising when Geingob arrived at a campaign rally two months ago in a new fleet of ML 500 Mercedes-Benz SUVs, ditching his E400 sedan which he only got last year. 
Three of the cars used by Geingob are understood to be part of the nine SUVs, while the other six are being reserved, probably waiting for him to take over as President. 
With the expected 28 vehicles, questions are being asked as to what happens to Pohamba's current fleet, including the new S-Classes, which arrived last year. 
The debate about official vehicles for government executives continues to rage, with questions being raised about the safety of the Toyota double cab bakkies used as off-road vehicles by ministers. 
Many, however, question why government decided to ditch Volvos and go back to Mercedes-Benz, after Nujoma banned the use of Mercedes-Benz for ministers. 
The upgrade has seen government spending a substantial amount of tax payers' money on beefing up its fleet of luxury vehicles over the past five years.
By Shinovene Immanuel and Tileni Mongudhi The Namibian