GIFTS sometimes come with a political price tag, and the change in government has opened a new chapter in the Toshakhana saga.
On Friday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif alleged that his predecessor, Imran Khan, had sold state gifts in Dubai worth Rs140m. The items, presented to him by rulers of foreign countries, reportedly included a wristwatch from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
Former information minister Fawad Chaudhry responded by saying that “selling one’s own assets is not a crime”.
Certainly, rulers, parliamentarians and officials do have the right to acquire state gifts stored in the Toshakhana — where they are required to be deposited if they exceed a certain value — after paying a percentage of their worth, but the matter is not so cut and dried.
Misuse of the privilege by undervaluing the items in question is far from uncommon. That was the crux of a reference filed by NAB in 2020 against former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Yousuf Raza Gilani and former president Asif Ali Zardari. Now the FIA is said to have begun investigating the alleged sale of a necklace, gifted to Mr Khan while he was premier, for Rs180m to a jeweller in Lahore in lieu of a token amount paid to the Toshakhana.
Editorial: No need for secrecy
The situation is a rather neat illustration of the adage ‘people in glass houses should not throw stones’, and any inquiry into the disposal of state gifts during the former prime minister’s time in office must be fair and transparent so as to not come across as political retaliation.
That said, the PTI government had been unnecessarily cagey when asked to provide details of gifts presented to Mr Khan since 2018, resorting to the implausible argument that such disclosure would jeopardise international ties. Its insistence on keeping the information out of the public domain naturally gave rise to speculation that something was perhaps not quite kosher about how the Toshakhana was being managed.
To prove that was not the case, the PTI must cooperate fully with the investigation, which should also look into how the value of the gifts was determined before their sale to Mr Khan and perhaps others on reduced rates.
There is also the not unimportant matter of optics. How does it reflect on the former PM that after acquiring the items at a fraction of the price, he chose to sell them for profit while the nation had been asked to tighten its belt?
Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2022