‘Who gave these gifts?’: LHC seeks records of Toshakhana gifts from before 2002 – Pakistan

The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday ordered the federal government to submit records of Toshakhana gifts received by public office holders from foreign governments and dignitaries since 1947.

The Toshakhana is a department under the administrative control of the Cabinet Division and stores valuable gifts given to rulers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats and civil servants by heads of other governments and states and foreign dignitaries.

As per the Toshakhana Rules, gifts/gifts and other such material received by persons to whom these Rules apply must be reported to the Cabinet Department.

A day ago, the government – after expressing reluctance – made public the long-awaited records of Toshakhana gifts from 2002 to 2022. It had already submitted the details to the LHC on February 21 during the hearing of a petition seeking to make Toshakhana records public.

The plea – filed by Munir Ahmad through lawyer Azhar Siddique last year – had sought publication of full details of Toshakhana gifts received by political rulers and bureaucrats from foreign dignitaries since 1947.

However, on 23 February the federal government had told the LHC that details since 2002 were being “declassified”. Asked by Justice Asim Hafeez if the government did not have records of gifts bought before 2002, the Additional Attorney General had replied that they were not computerized.

The hearing

After hearing the plea today, Justice Hafeez ordered the federal government to submit all the details today, saying, “Present (Toshakhana) the pre-2002 records in court in whatever form they are.”

“The court will pass the verdict after a complete review (of the Toshakhana records). We will also see by whom these gifts were given,” he said.

The LHC judge further observed that it was also necessary to go through the aspect of “why these gifts are given”.

Here, the petitioner’s lawyer asked: “If a minister accepts a gift, it is understandable, but those who hold public positions, how can they accept gifts?”

To this, Justice Hafeez replied that the court had no jurisdiction over the matter and suggested that the petitioner approach relevant forums for this purpose.

The hearing was subsequently adjourned for half an hour and later resumed inside Justice Hafeez’s chamber.

During the hearing, the attorney general said the federal government had drafted a policy related to Toshakhana. “A 466-page report to make Toshakhana records from 2002 to 2023 public has already been filed in court.”

The court then ordered the federal government to submit the minutes of the federal cabinet meetings on the Toshakhana case by March 21 and adjourned the hearing.

The plea

The plea on the particulars was filed by advocate Munir Ahmad through advocate Azhar Siddique in December 2022.

The plea read: “The right to information is an integral part of a progressive democratic state and the same has been elaborated by the superior courts which say that the right to information in all matters of public importance is undeniably a fundamental right guaranteed under Article(s) 19 and 19-A of the Constitution.”

According to the petitioner, the right to information stems from the requirement that members of a democratic society be sufficiently informed to be able to intelligently influence the decision that may affect them.

Therefore, he argued, the people of Pakistan had a right to know every public act, anything done in a public manner, by public functionaries and their elected representatives.

The petitioner argued that the people at large had the right to know details of any public transaction and to be informed in all matters of public importance.

“This enables people to contribute to debate on social and moral issues and issues of public importance.”

The plea urged the court to order the respondents to publish the details of assets given to power holders as well as bureaucrats and also provide names, details, information, documentation and materials regarding the persons/officials who obtained the assets by making the payment.

The petitioner also sought details about the methodology used to determine the price of the Toshakhana articles.

The Ministries of Parliamentary Affairs and Home Affairs and the Information Commission of Pakistan have been named as respondents in the petition.

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