ISLAMABAD: The word ‘Toshakhana’ has been making the rounds in media for a while now after references were filed against some former rulers for allegedly misusing it. But, very few are actually aware of what Toshakhana is and what is its significance.
Established in 1974, Toshakhana is a department under the administrative control of the Cabinet Division and stores precious gifts given to rulers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats and officials by heads of other governments, states and foreign dignitaries as a goodwill gesture.
It has valuables ranging from bulletproof cars, gold-plated souvenirs, expensive paintings to watches, ornaments, rugs and swords.
Toshakhana (Maintenance and Administration) Rules, 1974, (revised up to 2012), are applied to the president, prime minister, Senate chairman and deputy chairman, National Assembly speaker and deputy speaker, federal ministers, ministers of state, members of parliament, government servants and also employees of autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies, whether on duty or leave, serving in any capacity in connection with the affairs of the government or while on deputation with any other body, agency, institution or authority.
Under the rules, it is mandatory that gifts of a certain value are deposited in Toshakhana. However, an official is also allowed to keep these gifts provided he pays a certain percentage of the price assessed by the Toshakhana evaluation committee.
Ex-secretary claims proper procedure never followed while disposing of gifts
Many attempts were made to get firsthand information from the relevant officials about Toshakhana, but they were reluctant to speak, citing sensitivity of the matter.
References of alleged ‘misuse’ of Toshakhana against former president Asif Ali Zardari and ex-prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Yousuf Raza Gillani are under trial in the accountability court of Islamabad.
A former cabinet secretary, who did not want to be named, narrated how Toshakhana had been misused over the years, suggesting ‘open auction’ of the gifts as one of the ways for their transparent disposal.
According to a rule of Toshakhana, gifts/presents and other such materials received by persons to whom these rules apply shall be reported to the Cabinet Division, indicating the nature and estimated value of the gifts. There should not be any undue delay in reporting the receipt of such gifts and those receiving should deposit them with the government.
However, the former bureaucrat said it had been observed that most of the people did not report to the government about the gifts they received.
The rules said people who received the gifts could retain them by paying a percentage of their actual cost determined by an evaluation committee.
The payable cost of the valuables varies for the president, prime minister, federal ministers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats and others. However, it had been observed that at times accurate assessment was not made and a lesser value than the actual cost was determined to benefit the gift seekers.
Another rule said gifts of historical importance, curio or antique will not be retained by any person and should be deposited in Toshakhana whatever its market value may be.
The ex-official said presents of historical importance were displayed in the Presidency, Prime Minister Office, ministries and museums so that people visiting these venues could view them.
“When foreign dignitaries visit these places, they feel happy to see the gifts they had given to their friends in Pakistan,” he added.
Yet another rule of Toshakhana said if any person receiving gifts from abroad or from a visiting dignitary wished to retain some or all of the presents exceeding the value (they are exempted to pay), that person would have to pay the actual price of the gift or gifts in question as evaluated by the committee.
“When I was in the Cabinet Division, the then prime minister retained a gift after getting its value fixed from the market,” the ex-bureaucrat said.
The evaluation committee comprises a joint secretary of the Cabinet Division who serves as its chairman, while a joint secretary each from the Finance Division and the Ministry of Industries as well as a deputy secretary (Planning and Budget) serve as its members. A deputy secretary from the Cabinet Division is also a member/secretary of the committee.
The committee has to meet periodically and review the matter of collection of gifts and their preservation. It determines the price of each article deposited in Toshakhana. While fixing the price, it may seek help from reputed firms dealing in gift items.
The committee has to recommend the manner of disposal of the articles which are likely to suffer depreciation in value if kept for a longer period or remain unused.
The articles should be disposed of through public auctions and the sale proceeds deposited in the government account.
However, the former bureaucrat said no auction of the prized articles was conducted, and instead a list of these items with their estimated value was issued after every two to three years and circulated in federal ministries, offering every official from grade 1 to 21 the opportunity to buy them by paying the determined price.
“The most transparent manner to dispose of the gifts is open auction so that everyone can buy them by paying the price offered in the bidding,” the former official added.
One of the rules said efforts shall be made to preserve all gifts, with special attention given to those which are of historical importance and whose value would not diminish even if kept for a long period. If necessary, experts’ help may be sought for their proper maintenance.
In order to maintain the record of Toshakhana, there shall be two registers — deposit register and disposal register.
The deposit register will be comprehensive as all gifts with their prices and brief description are entered in it.
Against each entry in the register, there will be a signature of the secretary countersigned by the evaluation committee chairman.
Gifts, which are highly valuable or are of historical importance, like rare curio or antiques, should be photographed and a copy of the same posted in the register. The amount of the gifts is deposited in the government account, a rule said.
Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2020