The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday ordered the government to make public the record of Toshakhana gifts received by public office holders from foreign governments and dignitaries between 1990 and 2001 as well.
The high court’s directives came days after the government, under a previous order of the court, had made public the details of foreign gifts retained by public office holders — presidents, prime ministers, federal cabinet members, politicians, bureaucrats, retired generals, judges and journalists from 2002 to 2022.
Justice Asim Hafeez issued the orders today while presiding a hearing on a petition filed by Munir Ahmad through Advocate Azhar Siddique seeking the government to make public the complete details of Toshakhana gifts received by political rulers and bureaucrats from foreign dignitaries since the creation of Pakistan.
In the previous hearing, a day after the release of Toshakhana records from 2002 onwards, the high court had directed the law officer representing the government to “submit in chamber” the remaining record before 2002, including the names of those who gave those gifts.
During today’s hearing, the judge said that any gifts received by the country from friendly nations should also be made public, adding that nothing should be hidden.
Additional Attorney General Mirza Nassar, representing the government, objected to the directive concerning the disclosure of sources of gifts.
Despite the objection, the court insisted that all details should be disclosed to the public.
“We intend to file an appeal against the direction,” Nassar informed the court. Justice Hafeez assured the additional attorney general of their right to appeal.
The judge also emphasised that no one could retain any gift without making the necessary payment.
Furthermore, the judge stated that complete transparency should be maintained, and nothing should be hidden.
Subsequently, the court disposed of the petition.
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.
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 were arrayed as respondents in the petition.
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