Wednesday November 30, 2022

Toshakhana affair

By Editorial Board
July 05, 2022

The Toshakhana is state property and as such should follow all conventions and ethical principles applicable to such properties. The allegations that under the PTI government the Toshakhana did not observe its norms and became a victim of turpitude are serious. Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Sardar Ayaz Sadiq has once again criticized PTI Chairman Imran Khan regarding the Toshakhana controversy. Ever since this new government assumed office in April, it has been hinting at filing a reference in this regard – which finally has been submitted to the speaker of the National Assembly. The speaker has to announce a decision within 30 days after which the reference could move to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). The incumbent government maintains that the PTI inflicted considerable damage to the country’s reputation internationally by disposing of gift items at throwaway prices in the open market. Irrespective of the outcome in this reference, there is a need to develop a new policy dealing with the Toshakhana affairs. Currently, there is ambiguity about how to deal with Toshakhana affairs.

This policy should be available in the public domain so that the citizens of Pakistan can access it, and form an opinion about whether any violation has taken place. There are multiple issues in this controversy that need resolution. Governments in power tend to deny access to information regarding Toshakhana gifts to an applicant. Disclosure of details pertaining to gifts that top leaders of Pakistan receive should become mandatory. The Cabinet Division must ensure and respect the Right of Access to Information Act 2017. Such disclosures must include the assessed and market values of the gifts prevalent at that time and the amounts paid by recipients such as presidents and prime ministers. There is a need for more transparency and the government can ensure that just by developing a policy in line with the best practices employed internationally. The policy must get an approval from the cabinet to avoid any further confusion and litigation in future.

The minister in charge of the federal government or the highest officer in the relevant ministry must be held accountable if any missteps become known. When the Pakistan Information Commission accepts a request and directs the Cabinet Division to provide the requested information about gifts received from foreign heads of government or state and other foreign dignitaries, all descriptions and specifications of the gift in question must be provided. There should be clear rules under which the gifts are retained by the recipient or are disposed of. All such matters must fall under the ambit of the Right to Access to Information Act 2017, and could be requisitioned under the Act. If a government is reluctant to disclose details of gifts, the policy must propose some accountability for the concerned officials. There is more embarrassment in no-disclosure than the other way around. All gifts that rulers receive belong to the nation and not to them.

We live in interesting times where stories about the previous ruling party keep trickling in but the reaction is not as extreme as it would have been had any other party been accused of these things. However, the profits from Toshakhana, the alleged audio leaks, the Farah Gogi scandals, Lettergate and NSC statements have inflicted a hit on the PTI’s optics of being a ‘clean’ party. On Sunday, the press conferences by PML-N leaders and PTI in response were full of allegations and counter-allegations. But when it comes to the PTI, the party continues its policy of shooting the messenger: any media organization or journalist who does his/her job by reporting is a sellout unless the reporting favours the PTI. The kind of language used by a certain party spokesperson cannot even be repeated. Instead of attacking the media, maybe the PTI should focus on its politics and the cases and allegations it now faces.