Of state gifts

Published May 14, 2022

THIS refers to the letter ‘State gifts: a peep into the past’ (April 30) which discussed the procedure about gifts exchanged between state dignitaries. It is true that gifts are invariably exchanged between the heads of states and governments during their official visits to other countries. The gifts received were used to be considered personal and were retained accordingly. It was in 1974 that Toshakhana was established as a department under the Cabinet Division. Its main purpose was, and is, to keep gifts received by members of parliament, ministers, foreign secretaries, presidents and prime ministers.

While framing the rules, a provision was made that these gifts could be purchased by the recipient by paying a small fraction of the price fixed by the Toshakhana.

The issue of state gifts erupted when the news appeared that costly gifts received by the former prime minister were purchased by him at a throwaway price and its subsequent sale in the open market for a profit. This much has now been acknowledged by the person himself.

This case should not be seen in isolation. Welfare shops exist in Pakistan Coast Guards, Pakistan Customs and the Frontier Corps, where a small quantity of smuggled items is placed for sale at a price officially fixed. This facility is meant for troops who risk their lives in fighting against the menace of smuggling.

The personnel may buy items placed at a nominal price and later they become their property, and, if they so desire, they may gift them or sell them to anyone. The only attraction is the substantially low prices.

However, practically speaking, all state gifts belong to the state and not to individuals. And the question agitating the minds is if it is fair game for presidents and prime ministers to buy items at throwaway price and later dispose of them in the open market. In 1968, I was detailed as the conducting officer to a two-member delegation from Iran.

The delegation members before leaving gifted me a plastic dinner set which I handed over to the unit. After few days, I was offered to buy it if so desired at a very nominal price that was paid and the gift was handed over to me. Technically, there is nothing wrong with it, but when it comes to state functionaries, it looks bad. It has certainly brought a bad name to Pakistan, and, for now, state visitors will think a hundred times before offering gifts to Pakistani rulers.

Lt-Col (retd) Mukhtar Ahmed Butt
Karachi

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2022

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