The Lahore High Court (LHC) ordered the federal government on Monday to submit the records of Toshakhana gifts received by public office holders from foreign governments and dignitaries since 1947.
The 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.
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.
A day ago, the government — after initially expressing reluctance — publicly released the much-awaited records of Toshakhana gifts from 2002 to 2022. It had already submitted the details to the LHC on Feb 21 during the hearing of a petition seeking to make Toshakhana records public.
The plea — filed by Munir Ahmad through Advocate Azhar Siddique last year — had asked to make public complete details of the Toshakhana gifts received by political rulers and bureaucrats from foreign dignitaries since 1947.
However, on Feb 23, the federal government had told the LHC that details since 2002 were being “declassified”. Upon being inquired by Justice Asim Hafeez if the government did not have the records of gifts bought before 2002, the additional attorney general had replied they were not computerised.
Hearing the plea today, Justice Hafeez ordered the federal government to submit the complete details today, saying: “Present the [Toshakhana] records from before 2002 in court, no matter in which form they are.”
“The court will pronounce the verdict after having a full review [of the Toshakhana records]. We will also see who were these gifts given by,” he said.
The LHC judge further noted that it was also necessary to review the aspect of “why these gifts are given”.
Here, the petitioner’s counsel asked: “If a minister is taking a gift, it is understandable but those who have public positions, how can they take gifts?”
To that, Justice Hafeez replied that the court did not have jurisdiction over the matter and suggested that the petitioner approaches relevant forums for this purpose.
The hearing was subsequently adjourned for half an hour and later resumed inside Justice Hafeez’s chamber.
During the hearing, the attorney general said that the federal government had drafted a policy related to the Toshakhana. “A 466-page report on making Toshakhana records from 2002 to 2023 public has already been submitted in the court.”
The court then ordered the federal government to submit the minutes of the federal cabinet’s meetings on the Toshakhana matter by March 21 and adjourned the hearing.
The plea seeking the details was filed by lawyer Munir Ahmad through Advocate Azhar Siddique in December 2022.
The plea stated: “The right to information is an integral part of a progressive democratic state and the same has been elaborated by the superior courts saying the right to information in all matters of public importance is indisputably a fundamental right guaranteed under Article(s) 19 and 19-A of the Constitution.”
According to the petitioner, the right to information stems from the requirement that members of a democratic society should be sufficiently informed that they may intelligently influence the decision which may affect them.
Therefore, he argued, the people of Pakistan had the right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way, by public functionaries and their chosen representatives.
The petitioner contended that people at large were entitled to know details of every public transaction and acquire information in all matters of public importance.
“This enables people to contribute in debate on social and moral issues and matter of public importance.”
The plea urged the court to order the respondents to make public the details of assets gifted to rulers as well as bureaucrats and also provide the names, details, information, documentation and materials in respect of the persons/officials who have obtained the assets by making the payment.
The petitioner also sought details of the methodology used to determine the price of the Toshakhana articles.
Ministries of Parliamentary Affairs and Interior and Pakistan Information Commission have been arrayed as respondents in the petition.