The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday questioned the government over its reluctance to disclose details of the gifts presented to Prime Minister Imran Khan since August 2018 when he assumed office.
The Pakistan Information Commission (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 heads of states, heads of governments and other foreign dignitaries …description/specification of each gift, information about the gifts retained by the prime minister and the rules under which gifts thus received are retained by him”.
The Cabinet Division had opposed the request, taking the stance before the PIC that this matter did not fall within the ambit of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017. Referring to a letter dated April 4, 1993, that had declared the details of Toshakhana “classified/secret”, it had argued that the information could not be requisitioned under the Access to Information Act.
Subsequently, the Cabinet Division had challenged the order in a petition before the IHC, claiming 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.
"Will you provide [the details] of the gifts given to Prime Minister Imran Khan or not?" Justice Mian Gul Hassan Aurangzeb inquired from a government representative during Wednesday's hearing on the matter.
Saying that details of certain items such as defence-related gifts may not be disclosed, the judge questioned why the restriction on making details public applied to every gift.
"What is the harm in making it public if some country has given a necklace as a gift?" Justice Aurangzeb questioned. "Why is the government facing embarrassment by not disclosing gifts received from other countries?"
He said gifts received by rulers belonged to the nation and not to them, asking whether public officeholders would even receive those gifts if the public office did not exist.
"Why doesn't the government keep all the gifts in the museum? The government should make [details of] the gifts in the last 10 years public."
He also said the government should inform how many gifts had their valuation done by the Federal Board of Revenue.
Assistant Attorney General Atiqur Rehman Siddiqui requested time to respond after which the court adjourned the hearing for two weeks.
What is the Toshakhana?
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 and states and foreign dignitaries as a goodwill gesture.
It has valuables ranging from bulletproof cars, gold-plated souvenirs and expensive paintings to watches, ornaments, rugs and swords.
Read more: Little-known Toshakhana garnering spotlight
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 they pay a certain percentage of the price assessed by the Toshakhana evaluation committee.
According to Toshakhana rules, 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.