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LAHORE: The Lahore High Court was informed on Thursday the public disclosure of Toshakhana gifts could potentially damage the international relations of Pakistan.

The government raised these apprehensions in a report submitted before the court on Thursday in reply to a petition filed by Munir Ahmad seeking court’s directions to make record of Toshakhana public.

The court remarked that it would hold its order to make Toshakhana gifts public until it is satisfied that these gifts were to keep secret. The court, therefore, directed the secretary cabinet division to submit within fortnight an affidavit which should contain the reasons as to why a particular gift be considered classified along with the Toshakhana’s record.

The law officer assured the court to submit the affidavit till next hearing. The court also held that proceedings on next hearing would be held in camera and rose till February 07.

The report said the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on November 26, 2015, had declared that the information pertaining to Toshakhana gifts is classified as disclosure of such information may cause unnecessary media hype which could be potentially damaging the interests of Pakistan in the conduct of international relations. The report quoted section 15(1) of Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 in this regard.

The report also said that Right of Access to Information (RTI) Act, 2007, also provides exemption from disclosure of the information that pertained to the personal privacy of an individual, the information declared as classified by the minister-in-charge of the federal government and the information whose disclosure may cause damage to the interests of Pakistan in the conduct of international relations.

The report also said various requests by private persons seeking Toshakhana information under RTI Act, 2007, were declined by the Cabinet Division in terms of PMO’s letter and section ibid.

The report said the PMO constituted an inter-ministerial committee to formulate a new Toshakhana policy based on international best practices and principles of openness and transparency. The PMO also desired to maintain confidentiality of the information as per existing SOPs till the new policy was formulated, the reply said.

It said the recommendations of the committee along with the new proposed Toshakhana Procedure, 2022, and draft legislation were submitted to the PMO on August 12, 2022, for approval and its subsequent placement before the federal cabinet.

The petitioner through his counsel argued that the people of Pakistan had a right to know every public act, everything that was done publicly, by public functionaries and their chosen representatives.

He said the right to information in all matters of public importance is indisputably a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19 and 19 (a) of the Constitution. He also contended that people at large were entitled to know details of every public transaction and acquire information in all matters of public importance.

He said the right to information stemmed from the requirement that members of a democratic society should be adequately informed that they might intelligently influence the decision which may affect them.

The counsel asked the court to allow the petition and order the respondents to public the details of the assets gifted to the rulers as well as bureaucrats and also provide the names, details, information, documentation and materials in respect of the persons/officials who have obtained the assets by making the payment. The petitioner also sought details of the methodology used to determine the price of the Toshakhana articles.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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