The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday questioned why the federal government was “hesitant” in disclosing the details of gifts received by Prime Minister Imran Khan from foreign governments.
Hearing a plea seeking details of gifts in the Toshakhana (gift depository), Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb asked whether public officeholders would even receive those gifts if the public office did not exist. “The gifts received by rulers belong to the nation and not to them.”
Deputy Attorney General Arshad Kayani, on behalf of the government, adopted the stance that by making the details of gifts public bilateral relations between the states could be affected. He maintained that a few countries did not want to disclose such information. He said that such details could be uploaded on social media which could perturb the friendly countries.
The court sought clarification asking how ties between countries could be affected by making the details of gifts public.
Observing that the government may avoid disclosing details of items such as defence-related gift, Justice Aurangzeb asked why the principle was being applied to every gift.
“If a country has given a necklace as a gift, what is the harm in making it public?” he asked.
“Why is the government facing embarrassment by not disclosing the [details of] gifts from other countries?”
The judge inquired why the government did not keep all the gifts in the museum. “The government should make [details of] the gifts in the last 10 years public.”
He said the government should inform how many gifts had their valuation done by the Federal Board of Revenue.
"Will you [respond to the] court’s questions or not and provide details of gifts given to Prime Minister Imran Khan?"
The government requested time from the IHC to respond on the matter after which the court adjourned the hearing of the case for three weeks.
Last month, citizen named Rana Abrar Khalid had filed a petition with the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) seeking to make the gifts received by PM Imran public.
Later, the PIC directed the Cabinet Division to provide the details of gifts received by the premier from foreign heads of states, heads of governments and other foreign dignitaries.
However, the government adopted the stance before the PIC that this matter did not fall within the ambit of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 and refused to provide the requested information.
Subsequently, the Cabinet Division challenged the order in a petition before the IHC, claiming that the PIC order was “illegal, without lawful authority”.
The government maintained that the disclosure of any information rela¬ted to Toshakhana jeopardised the international ties.
Toshakhana is a department under the administrative control of the Cabinet Division. Established in 1974, it stores precious gifts given to rulers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats and officials by heads of other governments, states and foreign dignitaries.
It is mandatory that gifts of a certain value are kept in Toshakhana. However, officials can keep these gifts provided they pay a certain percentage of the price assessed by the Toshakhana evaluation committee.
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