KARACHI: While most of the attention was fixated on leaders who took away cars and watches after paying peanuts, little has been said so far about low-ranking government employees taking away luxury watches.

According to the Toshakhana records made public over the weekend, gifts worth over Rs8.2 million have been kept for free since 2002. This number, however, might not represent the true picture as several gifts had no value attached to them, as per the data provided.

Free gifts were doled out to one and all without discrimination — from presidents and prime ministers to government employees and even valets.

Shaukat Aziz topped the chart with the most free gifts retained. He and his wife kept over 700 gifts, estimated to be worth at least Rs2.7 million.

Former president Pervez Musharraf and his wife kept over 77 gifts for free whose value was estimated to be around Rs899,660.

Interestingly when Mr Musharraf was at the helm, several low-level government emp­loyees kept free watches with exorbitantly high price tags.

The ASI’s Rolex

Talat Mahmood, a UDC at the PM Secretariat kept a wristwatch with an estimated price of Rs240,000 for free. One Chaumet wristwatch went for free to another PM Secretariat UDC, Talat Mahmood whose value was estimated to be Rs45,000.

Two Rolex wristwatches, with estimated price tags of Rs265,000 and Rs115,000, were kept by Lance Naik Zafar Iqbal and a police ASI, Nawazish Ali.

A Corum wristwatch estimated at Rs50,000 was kept for free by Haji Tora Khan, a valet at the PM Secretariat. An SSG gunman Ghulam Akbar kept an Omega wristwatch priced at Rs60,000.

Saifullah, a grade-7 UDC at the Presidency in 2002, kept a Concord wristwatch whose estimated value was Rs75,000. Similarly, one Naik Tariq Mahmood, Lance Naik Dau­dur Rehman and Sepoy Arshad Alam kept Concord wristwatches with estimated price tags of Rs30,000 each.

It’s not only lower-grade male employees who had a predilection for luxury watches, women police constables also got to keep expensive watches for free.

Two Trebor wristwatches, with estimated price tags of Rs45,000 each, were kept by two lady constables, Kalsoom Khan and Shahzad Begum. Apparently, their indulgence was in line with the law allowing recipients who were government employees up till grade-10 to keep gifts, irrespective of the value assessed.

The value of gifts retained free came down significantly when the PPP government took power in 2008 — from 916,655 in 2007 to 123,550 in 2008.

Ex-president Asif Ali Zardari kept around 150 gifts without paying their estimated value of over Rs429,000. Ex-PM Yousuf Raza Gillani kept five free gifts which were estimated at over Rs25,000.

After coming to the power in 2017, ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his wife kept gifts with an estimated value of around Rs150,000 for free.

Mr Sharif’s successor, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi remained in power for only around a year but took away gifts with an estimated worth of over Rs484,000 for free. A bulk of these gifts had an estimated value of over Rs10,000 because the minimum value of a free gift retained was increased in 2017 to Rs30,000.

During his stint as the prime minister from 2019 to 2022, Imran Khan retained the biggest proportion of free gifts every year. He kept gifts for free whose price was estimated to be over Rs1.2m.

His successor, Shehbaz Sharif, who has been at the helm for less than a year has already retained gifts with an estimated value of Rs 373,800.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2023

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