Stretched Luxury For Sri Lanka
By Faraz Shauketaly
As coconuts retailed at Rs 60, leeks at Rs 150, green chillies Rs. 500, tomatoes Rs 372 – all per kilo — and the Army selling vegetables to stabilise prices, the world’s first stretch Prado limousine arrived in Colombo last Wednesday. On Thursday, a similar super luxury vehicle – a Chevrolet 300c stretch limo — cleared Customs. Both cars cost the importer, a cool Rs. 16 million – thanks in part to a quirk in Customs regulations which permitted the cars to be imported as buses.
Both vehicles were shipped from Los Angeles, California by a trio of Sri Lankan expatriates with connections in Australia and Japan. In a staggering indication of diversity and choice, whilst the bulk of the country creaked under the weight of sky rocketing prices and most providers of the traditional ‘buth packet’ trimming the content, the import of these super luxury vehicles provided a rare comparison of the widening ‘wealth divide’ in Sri Lanka.
Amila Perera, representing the trio of entrepreneurs, confirmed that the Prado limousine, virginal white in colour is a petrol guzzling 4,000 cc 2010 model and was the first ever Prado that had been stretched. The Prado is approximately 23 feet in length and its interior is packed with goodies that the rich and the not so rich would drool over. In essence it epitomizes superior wealth.
A quirk in Customs regulations meant that in spite of the Prado costing a declared value of USD 50,712 the duty and other fiscal levies were a trifling Rs 1.19 million. The 3500 cc, 2009, silver coloured Chevrolet 300 limousine was valued at USD 41,015 and attracted duty and other levies totaling Rs 4.73 million. The quirk was that as the limousines had multiple seats – the Prado seating 18 and the Chevrolet 13, they were imported as buses.
By contrast a Toyota Vitz 1,000cc, 2007 model, imported last week, and valued at Rs 1.3 million attracted duty and levies of Rs 865,000. A customs spokesman confirmed that the Toyota agent in Sri Lanka was unable to provide a valuation for the Prado and that Customs then went on the ‘transacted value’ as per information provided by the importers, Prestige Limousines. He also suggested that if the Vitz had a seating capacity of 18 like the Prado limousine, then it would have attracted a lower rate of duty.
Saranga Galapatthi, the owner of a private bus company operating on the Colombo Tangalle route, said that his buses were 24 feet in length and wondered how these two 240 inch (20 feet) stretched limousines would cope on the narrow roads of Sri Lanka. A car importer suggested there was nothing wrong in the full variety of motor cars being available in Sri Lanka provided that all regulations were met and all levies paid.
Adding to the diversity and general confusion, it is important to remember that in his New Year message, President Rajapaksa called on the nation to be austere in these difficult economic times. With one car dealer predicting that these vehicles would sell for Rs 10 and 18 million each and could be hired out at Rs 100,000 per day – without the drinks – served in its ‘onboard bar’ Sri Lanka’s predicted boom in its economy is headed in diverse directions.
ONLY A BUS DRIVER
The irony is that nobody other than those with a bus driver’s license can drive these super luxury stretch limos.