No free lunches

By Editorial Board
March 17, 2023

What started as an investigative reporter’s biggest scoop has now brought the necessary amendments to a decades-old law. The new Toshakhana policy announced by the federal government is a step in the right direction – taking back the free pass many government officials enjoyed for years. While political experts believe that this change should have come years ago, it is good to note that authorities are paying attention to an issue that used to oscillate between the legality and morality realms. That valuable gifts given by foreign dignitaries and diplomats visiting the country were taken into personal possession by prime ministers, cabinet ministers, judges, senior military officials and others at extremely nominal prices seems to have been common practice.


The new policy, which resembles the policy in place in India, aims at putting an end to this practice and now places a ban on retaining gifts over $300. Officials have also been barred from retaining cash gifts which must be deposited in the national treasury. Only government employees from Grade I to IV will be allowed to retain any cash given to them. Importantly, it has also been decided that gifts from the Toshakhana will be auctioned at various times after determining their market value by the Federal Bureau of Revenue and the Cabinet Division and the public will be allowed to participate. This is likely to stop the misuse of Toshakhana presents that we have seen in the past.

The Toshakhana case against Imran Khan is concerned with the misdeclaration of assets – the Toshakhana gifts. As a consequence of the case, the incumbent coalition government recently released the list of gifts retained by several government representatives and senior officials going back till 2002 after which most people have criticized the varied ruling elite for putting their material interests over national interests. The naming and shaming has led to one PML-N leader depositing the actual valued amount (minus the amount paid previously at the time of retaining the gift) in the Toshakhana. Another leader has deposited the gifts back in the repository. Now the key question is whether the new policy will be properly implemented. The new policy emphasizes that gifts given to the head of state are meant as gifts to that nation and not to the individual. It also goes into great detail stating that edible items such as pineapples or chocolate can indeed be retained, given that these are perishable items. Animals, on the other hand, are to be handed over to military farms or veterinary services, so it can be determined if they can be kept at farms or given to zoos. All this makes it extremely clear how gifts are to be handled. There can be zero excuse now for anyone to try and retain or buy at alarmingly cheap prices presents given to officers and representatives of the state.