ISLAMABAD: No one ever asked the federal government to name “who gave the gifts”, rather it approached the Islamabad High Court with a twisted assertion that disclosure of gifts can damage Pakistan relations with other states.
Earlier this week, the issue of Toshakhana became a major controversy when the government approached the IHC against Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) decision to make public details of gifts given to Prime Minister Imran Khan by foreign heads of states and others.
The federal government challenged the matter in Islamabad High Court (IHC), arguing that details of the gifts received by the prime minister have been designated as “classified”, adding that disclosures about the gift exchanges between heads of states could trigger unnecessary media hype, possibly damaging Pakistan’s relations with other countries.
Interestingly, neither the citizen, who had approached the PIC to get information about the gifts the prime minister had retained, nor the Commission had asked the government to name the foreign rulers or the country who gave gifts to the PM.
The information sought was about how many gifts the PM had received and how many he retained. The names of the giver were never asked. According to the PIC order, the cabinet division was approached with the following questions:
“1. How many gifts did the Prime Minister Imran Khan receive from foreign heads of state, head of the government & other foreign dignitaries from 18 August 2018 to 31 October 2020?
2. What is the full description/specification of the all gifts received by the Prime Minister Imran Khan from foreign head of state, head of the government & other foreign dignitaries during 18 August 2018 to 31 October 2020?
How many of the gifts received by foreign head of state, head of the government & other foreign dignitaries did the Prime Minister Imran Khan (recipient) retain for himself during 18 August 2018 to 31 October 2020? (under which law and rules of business of the federal government of Pakistan). All gift/gifts received from foreign head of state, head of the government &other foreign dignitaries that the Prime Minister Imran Khan (recipient) has retained for himself during 18 August 2018 to 31 October 2020, please tell the description of (with complete specification & model of every gift with its market value) and how much money has the Prime Minister Imran Khan (recipient deposited in the national exchequer in return? The Prime Minister Imran Khan (recipient) deposited the money in the national exchequer in return for the said retained gift/gifts for himself (received by foreign head of state, head of the government &other foreign dignitaries during 18 August 2018 to 31 October 2020), from which bank account was it transferred? (Please tell the account No. & head of account with the bank name).”
The cabinet division refused to give an answer to any of the above questions by declaring the information sought as “classified”.
In its order, the PIC had rejected the cabinet division’s reasoning and asked for the provision of required information to the citizen. It underlined in its order that it is the opacity and secretive ways of running the affairs of the government, not the media stories based on certified information, that breed corruption and damage interests of the people of Pakistan.
“This commission fails to understand how certified information based on records could adversely impact the conduct of inter-state relations? This assertion that disclosure of the requested information could create “media hype” and result in “unwarranted stories”, thus “potentially” damaging the interest of Pakistan in the conduct of international relations is tantamount to not only shooting the messenger, but also being problematic on many other counts,” the PIC had observed.
It added that it is not the certified information but absence of certified information that contributes to “media hype” and results in “unwarranted stories”, creating trust-deficit between citizens and public institutions. Certified requested information will dispel rumours about the reporting of the gifts to Tosha Khana by the public officials and their retention price and which elected representative or public official retained which gift at what price.