Govt reluctant to disclose details of gifts to PM

Published September 21, 2021
A file photo of Prime Minister Imran Khan. — APP/File
A file photo of Prime Minister Imran Khan. — APP/File

• Court moved against Pakistan Information Commission’s order
• Cabinet division argues record of Toshakhana is classified

ISLAMABAD: While claiming that disclosure of any information related to Toshakhana jeo­pardises international relations, the cabinet division has cha­llenged the Pakistan Infor­mation Commission (PIC) order seeking details of the gifts presented to Prime Min­ister Imran Khan since August 2018 when he assumed office.

The cabinet division in a petition filed before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) claimed that the PIC order was “illegal, without lawful authority”. The government took the stance that dis­closure of any information rela­ted to Toshakhana jeopardises international ties, though a reference filed against the leadership of the two major opposition parties was based on the information shared by Toshakhana.

The PIC had earlier accepted an application on the matter and directed the cabinet division to “provide the requested information about the gifts received by Prime Minister Imran Khan from foreign head of states, head of governments and other foreign dignitaries…description/specification of each gift, information about the gifts retained by the PM and the Rules under which gifts thus received are retained by him”. The cabinet division was also told to share the required information within 10 working days and upload it on the official website as well.

In his application, Abrar Kha­lid had sought details from the PIC about gifts received by PM Khan so far.

The cabinet division opposed the request, taking the stance before the PIC that this matter did not fall within the ambit of Right of Access to Information Act, 2017. While referring to a letter dated April 4, 1993 that had declared the details of Toshakhana “classified/secret”, it argued the information could not be requisitioned under the Access to Information Act.

“The record is classified with the direction of the Prime Min­ister’s Office as the exchange of gifts between the head of states and the head of governments is reflective of inter-state relations, disclosure of such information potentially damaging the interests of Pakistan in the conduct of international relations jeopardising interstate relations.”

After preliminary hearing, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb of the IHC issued notices to the PIC and the applicant, Abrar Khalid, and sought their replies.

Assistant attorney general Attiqur Rehman Siddiqui appeared before the high court on behalf of the cabinet division.

In its order, the PIC noted that the cabinet division had denied access to each item of the requested information by citing “section-7(f) & clause 16(ii) of Right of Access to Information Act”. Even the requested item of information about the rules under which gifts received from the foreign dignities are retained by the Prime Minister has been exempted under these sections.”

The PIC held it was not the “certified information, but absence of certified information [that] contributes to ‘media hype’ and results in ‘unwarranted stories’, creating trust deficit between citizens and public institutions. Certified requested information will dispel rumours about the reporting of the gifts to ‘Tosha Khana’ by the public officials and their retention price and which elected representative or public official retained which gift at what price.”

According to the commission, when certified information about these gifts will be made available in the public domain for everyone to see, citizens of Pakistan will know that the gifts received on their behalf are being properly managed. Availability of the certified information about the gifts deposited in Toshakhana in public domain will not only make the entire process about the management of these gifts open and transparent, it will contribute to reducing trust deficit between citizens and public institutions contributed by opacity and secretive ways of functioning of public institutions. Even citizens of the states on whose behalf gifts are received by our elected representatives and public officials will come to know that their gifts are properly managed, resultantly strengthening people-to-people and inter-state relations, the PIC stated in its order.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2021

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