No need for secrecy

Published September 22, 2021

THE government should not make a mountain out of the Toshakhana molehill. That would only encourage speculation of something being amiss in the department where precious gifts given to rulers, parliamentarians and officials by heads of other states and foreign dignitaries are stored. The kerfuffle was sparked by the Pakistan Information Commission’s order seeking details of the gifts presented to Prime Minister Imran Khan since he took office in 2018 and the refusal of the Cabinet Division — which controls the Toshakhana — to divulge the information. The government has now filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court on the grounds that the PIC order is “illegal, without lawful authority”, claiming that such disclosure would jeopardise international ties. In its order, the PIC had requested “…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 asked to provide the information within 10 working days.

One fails to understand the government’s insistence on keeping this information outside the public domain. The gifts have been given to the prime minister not in his personal capacity but as the representative of the people of Pakistan. In fact, according to the Toshakhana rules, articles likely to depreciate in value if unused are to be disposed of through public auction, with the proceeds deposited in the government account. Secondly, the rules also say that the people receiving the gifts can retain them by paying a percentage of their actual cost determined by an evaluation committee. It is believed however, that this facility is widely misused by undervaluing the items in question. In fact, the ‘Toshakhana reference’ pending in an Islamabad accountability court alleges that former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani relaxed the rules of procedure to enable Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif to acquire luxury vehicles from the depository by paying only 15pc of their value. Surely Mr Khan’s reputation for integrity would only benefit from disclosing the information asked for by the PIC.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2021

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