EDITORIAL: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s decision to display the gifts in the Prime Minister House he received during his official trips to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in April this year — a decision that reflects the policy prevalent in this country till the late 1970s — must be appreciated. Controversy at best and outright scandals at worst have dogged the gifts received by senior members of the country’s executive, parliamentarians and senior officials, mostly from visits to Arab countries, at a highly subsidised rate.
The law allowed former President Asif Ali Zardari, the three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif to keep gifted luxury vehicles after payment of 15 percent of the value of the car with both men having more than ample personal financial means to procure these vehicles at their retail value that includes the due taxes to the government of Pakistan. Concurrently, several government ministries/departments purchased vehicles for their use.
Imran Khan, again legally, sold some of the gifts he received from foreign governments and made a hefty profit that he used partly for a road going towards his Bani Gala residence, which is also in use by others living along that road, while he declared the rest of the money he earned from the sale though he has yet to pay taxes on the profits that accrued from the sale.
Former Prime Minister claimed again rightly that the gifts were his and it was for him to do whatever he wanted with them. He however needs reminding that he received the gifts in his capacity as the country’s prime minister, an honour bestowed on him by the people of this country and therefore it would have been in the fitness of things if the money from the sale of the gifts was used exclusively for welfare of the general public. It is not too late even today and one would hope that he donates the profit from the sale for the flood victims.
In reaction to public outrage at the misuse/abuse of the rules that govern the Toshakhana, under the administrative control of the Cabinet Division, a private members bill for the management and the regulation of Toshakhana was submitted by PPP Senator Bahramand Khan Tangi that 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 authorised officer of the cabinet division in the first quarter of each calendar year (no doubt a suggestion based on the frequent disappearance of gifts in the past).
One would therefore hope that the Shehbaz Sharif-led government’s policy on Toshakhana is not reversed as a reversal is no great shakes for the next primus inter pares in the federal cabinet (the prime minister) because the only rule that is not reversible is that enshrined in the constitution though that too can possibly be changed with a two-third majority in parliament and perhaps subject to an interpretation by the court.
It is an established fact that the leadership of all three national parties in the country have used the toshakhana rules to their advantage and one would hope that in 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.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022