As the controversy relating to the sale of Toshakhana gifts continues to dominate headlines and courtrooms, the federal government has come up with a decision to put the matter to rest by making details of gifts public that have been received over the past two decades. This decision to share details and enforce transparency has come following the orders of the Lahore and Islamabad high courts, seeking details of gifts obtained by state officials since 1947.
This is a positive development and appears to be in line with what PM Shehbaz Sharif had hinted at when he formed a 12-member committee earlier this year to formulate a more transparent policy pertaining to state gifts. As per sources, the report of the inter-ministerial committee also used to draft the ‘Toshakhana (Management and Regulation) Act 2022’ will be taken up by the federal cabinet in its next meeting along with the proposed bill.
The committee in its final recommendations stated that the declassified gifts shall be uploaded on the website of the cabinet division and the information should be updated and uploaded every quarter. While this step makes sense, it remains to be seen how it will be updated regularly given how public websites are poorly maintained and the digitisation of records remains an issue. Another positive recommendation is regarding the removal of the minimum limit (Rs 10,000) of undeclared gift transfers.
Considering how there is a trust deficit between the state and the population, a thorough probe and disclosure of the gifts received, and their fate is required. This is not about any one particular party, but more about the ethics and principles. It is not a secret that the leadership of all three national parties has used the Toshakhana rules to their advantage. Further, there must also be introspection into why this trend is more pronounced in Pakistan’s case and the message it conveys. Learning from other examples, the way forward is to either put the gifts on display in government buildings depending on the significance and context or to dispose of them off through donations to charities or auctioning.