Saturday May 25, 2024

Highly subsidised Toshakhana gifts sold only to ruling elite

By Ansar Abbasi
September 22, 2021
Highly subsidised Toshakhana gifts sold only to ruling elite

ISLAMABAD: Toshakhana gifts – presents from foreign notables and dignitaries given to senior state and government officials and deposited in a ‘treasure-house’ -- are usually considered the state’s possession, only available to political and bureaucratic elite, both civilian and military, and judges of the superior judiciary.

These most influential segments of society are traditionally allowed to retain the gifts received during official foreign tours or from dignitaries of foreign countries on highly subsidised rates or they are auctioned to officers of the federal government and the armed forces. Any such gift not purchased by this elite, critics of the policy say, should at least be auctioned to the public.

Government sources say that despite the policy that every gift received must be reported to the government and deposited in the toshakhana, there are cases where gifts received have neither been declared nor given to the government for safe-keeping in the ‘treasure-house’.

In the latest policy, revised in December 2018, gifts valued above Rs30,000 may be allowed to be retained by the recipient on payment of 50 percent of the value exceeding the basic exemption of Rs30,000. This exemption, however, is not available in the case of antiques and gifts of intrinsic historical value. All such gifts should be properly catalogued and displayed at prominent buildings owned by the government.

Gifts up to a value of Rs30,000 can be retained free of cost by the recipient. Public functionaries, except for the president and the head of government, are prohibited from receiving gifts of any kind for their person or for members of their families from diplomats, consular and other foreign government representatives stationed in Pakistan or from any public organisation or private individual and firm within the country. However, if due to very exceptional reasons the gift cannot be declined, it shall invariably be deposited in the toshakhana.

Gifts deposited in the toshakhana that are fit for display must be properly catalogued and then displayed at prominent buildings/ institutions owned by the government or in the official residences of the head of state or the head of government. Such articles shall be properly entered in the toshakhana register and in the stock registers of the respective offices/ institutions.

Gifts which are not fit to be retained or displayed shall be disposed of by periodical sales to be arranged by the cabinet division, Government of Pakistan. These sales shall be held once or twice a year. The list of gifts to be sold shall be circulated to all federal government officers and officers of the armed forces. The articles not purchased in two consecutive auctions by government servants should be disposed of to the public through sealed bids.

Antique items and vehicles shall not be allowed to be purchased by the recipients. Antiques shall be placed in museums or displayed in official buildings owned by the government. Vehicles should be given to the central pool of cars of the cabinet division.

The procedure for the acceptance and disposal of these gifts shall apply to the president/ prime minister and their family members, chairman Senate, speaker National Assembly, chief justice of the Supreme Court, governors of the provinces, members of the federal cabinet, attorney general of Pakistan, ministers of state, deputy chairman Senate, deputy speaker National Assembly, dignitaries holding ministerial status, members of provincial cabinets, judges of the Supreme Court, the chief justice/ judges of the High Courts, parliamentarians and other elected representatives, all government servants (civil and military) as well as employees of the government controlled corporations, autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies and their spouse/ dependents, members of the provincial governments, other members of the public travelling abroad as members of official delegations.

While there is no information made public on who amongst the ruling elite retained the gifts on highly subsidised rates in the past, the cabinet division last year issued a letter for the select elite. The letter stated that “it has been decided to dispose of various articles available in the toshakhana of the Cabinet Division to the officers of the federal government and armed forces officers through auction by inviting sealed bids…”

When the media reported the matter, it was challenged in the LHC, which had directed the federal government to stop the scheduled auction of toshakhana gifts. The petitioner had submitted the gifts, which are given to the president, prime minister and ministers by other heads of states, were put in the toshakhana of the Cabinet Division, and were being auctioned without any legal backing and are offered only to government officers. It was also said that the auction process was a violation of Article 25 of the Constitution.