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Taking away gifts with both hands

Thirteen Pakistani presidents and prime ministers, from General Ziaul Haq to General Musharraf and from Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo to Shaukat Aziz, quietly took 3,039 gifts of an estimated value of Rs 160 million to their homes. The list shows three presidents and two prime ministers - Farooq Leghari, General Pervez Musharraf (Retd), Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif and Shaukat Aziz - took gifts worth Rs 150 million out of Rs 160 million but Asif Zardari took the largest share.

He paid Rs 19 million as retention cost of gifts received during five years, sources said. Zardari was gifted two BMWs and two foreign manufactured Toyota Jeeps by Libyan leader Colonel Qadhafi during his visit to Libya, and he paid a sum of only Rs 9.3 million as retention cost. He paid 15 per cent of the total cost of two BMWs and two jeeps and retained them.

In a bid to keep track of gifts received and retained by government functionaries on foreign visits, the federal government has made it mandatory to report these gifts to the Cabinet Division. The condition applies to senior officials from the government and bureaucracy as well as the judiciary. Apart from the president and prime minister, provincial governors, the Senate chairperson and deputy, the National Assembly speaker and deputy, and the attorney-general are also required to submit their gifts. Among ministers, the condition applies to state ministers, dignitaries holding ministerial status (such as ministers-at-large), parliamentarians and members of provincial governments. All elected representatives, including those sitting in the federal and provincial governments, are also required to report.

Among the judiciary, the Supreme Court chief justice and judges as well as the chief justices and judges of high courts will be required to submit a list of gifts. According to new guidelines, if a gift is valued at Rs 400,000 or more, only the president and the prime minister can retain it. The maximum monetary limit to be allowed for retention of gifts in one calendar year for any functionary, other than the president or prime minister, is Rs 1 million. However, gifts that are valued in excess of the limit can be retained on payment of 65% of the assessed value. The previous government increased the retention fee of all gifts above Rs 10,000 from 15 percent to 20 percent in October 2011. However, the government is considering a key recommendation of a Senate Standing Committee on Cabinet for enhancing the retention fee of gifts to 50 percent, received by President and Heads of Government and other public functionaries, sources said.

The retention cost of gifts for President and Head of Government was 15 percent during General Musharraf's rule. Pakistan People's Party (PPP) changed it to 20 percent in October 2011. The present government is following this decision, sources said. Sources said Tosha Khana (gifts repository) was transferred from the ministry of foreign affairs to the cabinet division in 1973 and the rules changed from time to time to accommodate the wishes of the executive.

A former Cabinet Secretary told Business Recorder that a Deputy Secretary of Cabinet, susceptible to pressure, heads the meeting of a Cabinet Committee to decide the retention cost of precious gifts received by Presidents/ Heads of Government during foreign trips.

"During Musharraf's regime we suggested establishing an inter-department committee (IDC) comprising of representatives of Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Ministry of Finance and headed by an additional secretary Cabinet Division to determine the real value of the gift but no steps were taken in this regards," he explained.

Sources reveal that Shaukat Aziz took as many as 1,126 gifts with him on his last flight from Islamabad to London in January 2008. The official cost of these expensive gifts, including necklaces, jewel boxes, diamonds, gold, watches and carpets, was estimated at Rs 26 million.

The former Cabinet Secretary recalled that Shaukat Aziz responded to criticism by saying that he retained the gifts by following the laid down rules and regulations of Tosha Khana. General Pervez Musharraf (Retd) took 515 gifts valued at Rs 38.1 million to his home. He only deposited five gifts in the Tosha Khana. Musharraf and his wife got many diamond and gold sets, jewel boxes, daggers and pistols.

According to the available official list, General Ayub Khan was the only ruler who deposited all his expensive gifts with the Tosha Khana. The list showed Ayub Khan receiving a total of 30 gifts from October 27, 1958 to March 3, 1969 valued at Rs 33,850 and all those gifts were deposited in the cabinet division. The other top leader who also deposited all his gifts in the Tosha Khana was Balakh Sher Mazari.

General Zia (September 16, 1978 to August 17, 1988) received a total of 210 gifts worth Rs 1.7 million out of which he took 122 gifts with him to his house after paying Rs 1.6 million. He deposited 88 gifts with the Tosha Khana. Mohammad Khan Junejo received 305 gifts worth Rs 1.4 million out of which he took 304 home and only one gift was deposited with the Tosha Khana. Junejo paid Rs 219,027 as retention cost.

During his five-year rule as the President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan received 89 gifts worth Rs 510,900 and he retained 88 of them after paying only Rs 67,335. Benazir Bhutto got 630 gifts during her two tenures as the Prime Minister valued at Rs 2.1 million. She retained 174 gifts and deposited the rest with the Tosha Khana and paid a sum of Rs 271,802 to retain those gifts.

Wasim Sajjad in his capacity as acting President of Pakistan was given only four gifts worth Rs 8,200 and he retained all of them after paying Rs 1,250. Nawaz Sharif, twice elected as the prime minister, was given 127 gifts worth Rs 10 million out of which he took home 75 after paying Rs 1.4 million. He deposited 50 gifts with Tosha Khana. President Farooq Leghari received 116 gifts worth Rs 18 million and except two he took all the 114 gifts to Choti Zarin, DG Khan. He paid only Rs 2.8 million to retain the gifts worth Rs 18 million.

President Mohammad Rafiq Tarar got 74 gifts worth Rs 1.1 million out of which he took 73 home to Lahore after paying only Rs 142,005. Zafarullah Khan Jamali during his two-and-a-half years in prime minister's house, got 110 gifts worth Rs 3.1 million and took all of them after paying only Rs 299,409. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who remained prime minister for hardly 40 days, got nine gifts worth Rs 216,500 and he took all of them after paying Rs 28,500.

Unlike Pakistan, the fundamental principle governing the acceptance of gifts by Members of The Royal Family in the UK is that no gifts, including hospitality or services, should be accepted which would, or might appear to place the Member of The Royal Family under any obligation to the donor. In this regard, before accepting any gift, careful consideration is always given, wherever practicable, to the donor, the reason for and occasion of the gift and the nature of the gift itself.

Official gifts can normally be imported free of duty and VAT by the Royal Family in the UK, with the exception of alcoholic products, tobacco or tobacco products. There may be tax implications for the Member of The Royal Family if personal gifts are received, passed on or sold.

The Royal Family has options of retaining the gift in storage; incorporating the gift into the Royal Collection (upon curatorial advice); loaning the gift to a reputable and appropriate organisation and donating the gift to a registered charity where it is thought that it may be applied to the benefit of others.

In the US, even though heads of state have traditionally exchanged gifts as expressions of goodwill, the Constitution prohibits anyone in the US Government from receiving a personal gift from a foreign head of state without the consent of Congress. Today, the handling of gifts from a foreign official to any Federal Government employee, including the President, is largely governed by the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act of 1966 and further legislation passed in 1977. The Congress has allowed Federal employees to retain any gift from a foreign government, as long as the total US retail value of the gifts presented at one occasion does not exceed an amount established by the General Services Administration (GSA). Foreign official gifts over this "minimal value" are considered gifts to the people of the United States, which the recipient must purchase from GSA, at a fair market value, in order to retain. The President and First Lady may have to pay federal taxes on the appraised value of gifts if they decide to keep them.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2013


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