Toshakhana Revelations Expose The Greed And Patriotism Of So-Called Public Representatives – OpEd

The 446 pages report issued by the cabinet division for the period from 2002 to 2023, contains the details of the foreign gifts received by Toshakhana, and pocketed by the family members of politicians, bureaucrats, and retired generals worth over PRs 260 million from Toshakhana, either for free or after making paltry payments amounting to PRs 56.7m over the past 20 years. 

This report is an eye opener for the helpless and voiceless public of Pakistan that how their so-called leaders have not even speared the foreign gifts and looted them in broad daylight. The irony is that the same ruling both civil and military classes is engaged in plundering the national exchequer since the beginning and making their economic empires within the country and abroad. Despite their unaccounted wealth, they have even not leaving the small foreign gifts like a set of cutleries, a piece of Soap, a dinner set, bed sheets, one honey pot, one necktie, one table clock, one pocket of coffee, one photo frame, one pot of fine apple, etc. this shows how greedy they are? How much they are sincere with the public.

What is Toshakhana and how it is maintained?

Toshakhana literally translates into “treasure house”. It is a word of Persian origin and lends its legacy to the Mughal Emperors. In Pakistan, it was Established in 1974, Toshakhana is a department under the administrative control of the Cabinet Division and stores precious gifts given to rulers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats, and officials by heads of other governments, states, and foreign dignitaries as a goodwill gesture. It has valuables ranging from bulletproof cars, gold-plated souvenirs, and expensive paintings to watches, ornaments, rugs, and swords.

The existence of the Toshakhana represents a very standard practice in global diplomacy. Whenever the leaders of two countries meet, it is customary to exchange gifts. 

Public functionaries except for the President and Prime Minister are prohibited from getting gifts for themselves or their families from foreign countries. If a gift is worth PRs 30,000 or less, then it can be retained by the receiver without any cost. Under the rules, gifts of a value above this must be deposited in Toshakhana. However, an official is also allowed to keep these gifts provided he pays a certain percentage of the price assessed by the Toshakhana evaluation committee. This committee consists of officials from the central bank, the FBR, and market experts.

Before 2020, the president, prime minister, and a list of other officials could retain gifts by paying the Toshakhana 20 % of their value. But, it was still compulsory to declare their receipt and submit them to the Toshakhana before paying the price as decided by the evaluation committee. 

The recent report reveals that of the top 10 figures —whose families kept the most expensive gifts in terms of value— four of them including Nawaz Sharif, Mamnoon Hussain, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and Ahsan Iqbal belong to PML-N. The family members of PTI chairman Imran Khan, President Dr. Arif Alvi, former president Asif Ali Zardari, former premier Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and ex-premier Shaukat Aziz are the recipients of foreign gifts.

The list made public by the cabinet division shows that the wife of ex-PM Shaukat Aziz has perhaps retained most of the gifts in terms of number. But, their total worth comes to around only PRs 688,040. Shaukat Aziz deposited PRs 69,509 for the gifts his wife had retained.

Similarly, Sehba Musharraf, the wife of Gen Musharraf, kept foreign gifts worth PRs 22.9m with her by paying only PRs 3.43m. She collected jewelry worth PRs 2.63m by paying PRs 393,658 in 2003 whereas, in April 2007, she again retained a jewelry set, a bracelet, and earrings worth PRs 14.8m after paying PRs 2.2m. In 2008, she got a gold and diamond jewelry set and blue sapphire valuing PRs 3.7m but paid PRs 560,025.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari received at least 182 presents during his time as president and retained almost all of them after making some payments against these presents. Mr. Zardari retained a Lexus and a BMW worth a little more than PRs107 million but paid PRs16.17m to retain these vehicles on Jan 26, 2009. These gifts are among the most expensive presents retained by a public office holder.

PPP’s Gilani, whose wife, two sons, and one daughter have been shown to have retained foreign gifts worth PRs 2.33m, paid only PRs 342,243 for them.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his wife Kulsoom Nawaz received at least 65 presents. The former PM chose to keep most of these gifts that include expensive watches and a bulletproof vehicle. In Jan 2016, Mr. Sharif received presents worth PRs 38 million and paid PRs 7.6 million to retain these gifts. In Feb 2016, Mr. Sharif paid a little more than Rs3.2 million to retain presents worth over PRs 16 million. Kulsoom Nawaz paid Rs10.8 million to acquire precious gifts worth more than PRs 54 million on Jan 13, 2016.

Family members of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi top the list as they retained gifts worth PRs 123.4m after depositing PRs 24.6m in the national kitty. Besides the wife of Mr. Abbasi, his two sons —Nadir Khaqan Abbasi and Abdullah Khaqan Abbasi— also retained two wristwatches with a collective worth of PRs 22.5m after paying merely PRs 4.48m.

So far, first lady Samina Alvi has taken away gifts valuing Rs1.83m after paying PRs 890,500. Among them, the most precious gift was a jewelry set containing a “necklace, pair of earrings and one box containing shield worth PRs 1.76m” after depositing Rs865,000.

Why has only Imran Khan been held accountable?

Contrary to other recipients, apparently, Imran khan has gained foreign gifts against the principles and norms set by the government for Tushakhana and he has breached those rules on four counts. 1) After getting the gifts, he sold out those in the market. 2) He has submitted a fake receipt of the sale deed 3) he has not declared the amount received against the gifts in his asset’s declaration before the election commission of Pakistan.

Imran Khan who has been ousted in the recent past as Prime Minister during his three-and-a-half-year stint received 58 gifts amounting to over ₹ 140 million from world leaders and retained all of them either by paying a negligible amount or even without any payment. The famous and precious among them were four gifts from the different heads of state as he received as prime minister. He claimed that the gifts he purchased from the Toshakhana for PRs 21.56 million brought in roughly PRs 58 million at sale. A Graft watch and some cuff links a ring and an expensive pen were included in one of the gifts, while four Rolex watches PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s household wife Bushra Bibi collected a necklace, earrings, bracelet, and a ring worth Rs18m from Toshakhana after paying PRs 9.3m. only.

After ousting Imran khan from the office, the PDM government initiated an inquiry into the illegal sale of gifts by Imran khan. Finally, the Toshakhan case was filed in the month of August 2022 against him for not sharing the details of Toshakhana gifts in annual assets submitted to ECP. 

Imran Khan resisted disclosing information on the presents, claiming that doing so would jeopardize relations with other countries. This is despite the PIC ordering that it be done.

Thereafter, on 8 September, Imran admitted to selling the four gifts he had received from the different heads of state as the prime minister. He claimed that the gifts he purchased from the Toshakhana for Rs21.56 million brought in roughly Rs58 million at sale. 

The Election Commission of Pakistan announced its final verdict on 21 October 2022 as ECP disqualified Imran from holding public for a short-term period for making the offense involving dishonest behavior, fabricated information, and inaccurate declaration in the reference under Article 63(1)(p) and ordered to send this reference to the trial court to initiate criminal proceedings.

Imran Khan is avoiding appearing before the trial court fearing that he might be disqualified under Article 62(1)(f), of the constitution, which sets the precondition for a member of parliament to be “sadiq and ameen” (honest and righteous), is the same provision under which former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by a five-judge SC bench on July 28, 2017, in the Panama Papers case.

The list released by the cabinet division does not cover the period beyond 2002. Furthermore, there is no mention of foreign gifts received by the heads or higher officers of two premier institutions judiciary and the Military from foreign dignitaries. PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry has rightly demanded the disclosure of Toshakhana gifts received by military generals and judges in Pakistan. He also requested that the Lahore high court,  to create an independent judicial commission to determine if the payment of the gifts were according to the law and whether they were declared so that the people come to know whether the gifts received by the head of those institutions are according to law or otherwise.

How Toshakhana is maintained in India?

The irony is that our neighboring country India has a clean and transparent record about Toshakhana. In India, all gifts received by Prime Minister or other government functionaries are documented and undergo a formal process for evaluation and disposal. Here’s a brief overview of the process:

It’s worth noting that all the gifts received by premier Modi of substantial value have been declared thereafter auctioned as per the rules and regulations of the Indian government and the amount is spent on girls’ education according. Whereas our patriotic leadership and the family members of politicians, bureaucrats, and retired generals pocketed gifts worth over a billion rupees from Toshakhana, either for free or after making paltry payments or sold out illegally in the foreign markets.

What should we do in the future?

It is a fact that the leadership of all three national parties in the country has used the toshakhana rules to their advantage and one would hope that in the future any sale of any gift must be open to the general public and the money received must be used for the welfare of the public or retirement of debt.

It is highly commendable that a private members bill for the management and the regulation of Toshakhana has been submitted by PPP Senator Bahramand Khan Tangi that has proposed to disallow public office holders and their family members to retain or purchase gifts and that all gifts suitable for display should be properly catalogued before display in government buildings or official residences with an annual physical verification/stock-taking by an authorized officer of the cabinet division in the first quarter of each calendar year. The government has set a good example aimed at transparency which would, hopefully, ensure the misuse of Toshakhana gifts received by government leaders and senior officials. The government must change this bill into enactment.

Sher Khan Bazai, The writer is a retired civil servant as Secretary Education, Baluchistan 

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