The seven-seater Toyota Land Cruiser Prado recently purchased as the official vehicle for use by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is not bulletproof, contrary to a newspaper article, Gonsalves told the media on Tuesday.
Gonsalves also said a bulletproof vehicle is not necessary in St. Vincent, and would not prevent someone from shooting him if they wanted to.
The News newspaper reported on Friday that the vehicle is bulletproof, and cost EC$300,000.
However, a document handed out by a member of the Prime Minister’s Security Detail at Tuesday’s press conference, lists the price of the vehicle as “$175,000 100% duty free price VAT exclusive”.
The vehicle — registration number “G7 — has a 4,000 cc gasoline engine.
Local car dealer, Star Garage, through which the vehicle was purchased, says that the standards price of such a vehicle, with a diesel engine, is EC$278,000 — inclusive of taxes and duties.
The prices of the gasoline version is generally more expensive, and varies depending on the model, the garage said, adding that it can import a gasoline powered Prado for EC$278,000 or as little as EC$230,000, depending on the customisation that the client chooses.
The fact sheet that the Prime Minister’s Security Detail handed out to the media on Tuesday does not suggest that the vehicle has any special customisation inside.
Minister of Foreign Affair, Sen. Camillo Gonsalves said in a post on Facebook earlier this month that the vehicle has “Fabric interior. Basic stereo. No rear seat entertainment. etc.”
The vehicle has flashing blue and red light on the front exterior.
Gonsalves told the media on Tuesday that the vehicle is the third purchased by the government for use by the Prime Minister since he came to office on March 28, 2001.
The other two were a Mercedes Benz car and a Volvo XC90.
Gonsalves said the Toyota Prado (seen in video above) was purchased through Star Garage, a local car dealer.
“There’s no bulletproof anything, but this is presented,” he said, and accused editor of The News, Shelly Clarke, of being hostile towards him.
“It’s not bulletproof. In fact, I will tell you something: I don’t like vehicles that are tinted, and I complain all the time.
“Tinted vehicles, I drive them a lot with the glass down. But to go about and call it a bulletproof vehicle, it’s a suggestion as though I’m protecting myself from bullets from people and so on. It’s just not true,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security.
He said the EC$175,000 paid for the vehicle was provided for in this year’s Budget, which Parliament approved in January.
“It’s in the budget. It’s not a new subject. I went to the Parliament of this country and the Parliament approved that a new vehicle should be purchased by the Office of the Prime Minister and the use of the officers who drive the Prime Minister around,” Gonsalves said.
He said the Offices of the Prime Minister and the Governor General are the only two in the government that provide vehicles as part of the employment arrangements.
Gonsalves said that his government has not abused state-owned vehicles, adding that he would not have changed the last vehicle, the Volvo XC90, which has been used for some seven years, if it didn’t have mechanical problems.
“One thing I can tell you, once I am here, there will be no abuse of vehicles and misuse by persons in government.”
Asked if he thinks that a bulletproof vehicle would become necessary, Gonsalves said no.
He said his security details quarrel with him and say he doesn’t take his security seriously, adding that he sometimes asks them why they are crowing him so much.
“I say, look. If anybody wants to do me anything, let them do it,” Gonsalves said.
“The point is this, I move about all the time in every which way. …
“One or two policemen around could stop somebody shooting me if they want shoot me? So I see no sense whatsoever talk about bulletproof vehicle.”
Gonsalves, who held a town hall meeting in New York on Saturday, said that he understands that when he goes to the United States the vehicle in which he travels “has all these kinds of various protections.
“I never inquire, other people tell me — in the Secret Service,” he said.
“Now, if the protection the secret service gives me in the United States I get it here, people would say well, Ralph believes he is s king,” Gonsalves said.
The political opposition has criticised the government over the purchase of the vehicle, saying it is excessive spending.