The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday directed Deputy Attorney General Arshad Kayani to ensure the implementation of the Pakistan Information Commission's (PIC) order to publicise details of the gifts presented to former prime minister Imran Khan by heads of states since he assumed office in August 2018.
Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb issued the directive while hearing two petitions on the matter, one by a citizen seeking implementation of the PIC order and the other by the Cabinet Division challenging that order.
Last year, the PIC had 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 told to share the required information within 10 working days and upload it on the official website as well.
Subsequently, the Cabinet Division challenged the PIC order in the Islamabad High Court, claiming that it was "illegal, without lawful authority". The then-government took the stance that the disclosure of any information related to Toshakhana jeopardises international ties.
During today's hearing, Justice Aurangzeb observed that the gifts belonged to the office of the prime minister and were not to be taken home.
"People come and go but the [Prime Minister's] Office remains. It is not a big thing if money is given to a certain extent and the gift is kept [with the premier]," he said, adding that the government should form a policy that whatever gift is given is deposited in Toshakhana.
He remarked that Pakistan had gifted a chair to former United States president John F. Kennedy which was displayed in a museum.
Justice Aurangzeb observed that gifts were not only received from foreign dignitaries but were also given to them after being bought from treasury funds.
All gifts received from abroad should be put on display, he said.
When the deputy AG sought time from the court to get instructions from the government, Justice Aurangzeb said he could take that time but, in the meantime, the PIC order should be implemented.
"If the information commission ordered that information be provided to the citizen (who filed the application), then do it. If someone has taken the gifts received from abroad to their home, take them back," the judge said.
He added that the court would provide constitutional interpretation regarding the matter if it was needed.
"There is no stay on the Pakistan Information Commission's order. The Cabinet Division is bound to provide information," he observed.
Subsequently, the case was adjourned for two weeks.
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 'Toshakhana' 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, it added.
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.
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.