THE government’s decision to declassify and make public the record of the Toshakhana gifts and their buyers is a welcome change of heart on its part. Only a few weeks ago, the government had told the Lahore High Court that such disclosure could potentially damage the national interest in the conduct of foreign relations, and embarrass the dignitaries who had given those gifts. On Thursday, a federal law officer assured the court hearing a petition, which sought the record of all Toshakhana gifts received or retained by politicians and bureaucrats since independence, that the government was declassifying the details of gifts received since 2002 and would soon put them online for public access.
Nonetheless, he said, the names of the foreign dignitaries who gave those gifts would not be revealed. The court was also informed that the government had decided to introduce legislation to make the transactions and the record of Toshakhana gifts transparent. Separately, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had told a press conference earlier this week that he had decided that politicians and bureaucrats would not be allowed to retain gifts worth more than $300 (Rs80,000 at the current exchange rate).
With the government building a public case of corruption and misuse of power against former prime minister Imran Khan and his spouse for allegedly taking expensive gifts from the repository at a price below the market rate, it is only fair that the record of all previous Toshakhana gifts is also disclosed to the people for the sake of fairness and transparency. The ruling coalition’s initial reluctance did not help its public image.
As the government works on a law, it should not forget the gifts received and retained by military officers and judges, too, from foreign dignitaries. They should surrender the gifts they receive to the Toshakhana and the rules that the politicians and bureaucracy are subjected to must also apply to them. There can’t be exceptions in a democracy.
Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2023