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IHC demands entire record of Toshakhana gifts

ISLAMABAD: On Monday, the Islamabad High Court sent notifications to the Cabinet Division and ordered the federal government to give information about Toshakhana presents based on the records that are now in existence.

The petition for information on the Toshakhana presents granted to the succeeding presidents and prime ministers since 1947 was heard by Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb of the IHC.

The petitioner, a lawyer by training, informed the court that the Cabinet Division disobeyed the Pakistan Information Commission’s (PIC) directive on June 29, this year, to reveal Toshakhana records to the public.

He asked the court to force the Cabinet Division to submit information on the Toshakhana presents given to the heads of state and corporate executives, as well as their market worth and the prices charged.

Details of gifts given before the 1990s “may not exist,” a law enforcement officer tells the court. The court was informed by Deputy Attorney General Syed Ahsan Raza Shah that Toshakhana’s earlier criminal history may not have existed.

The petitioner’s attorney said that his client had requested information about the presents which foreign leaders had presented to presidents and prime ministers, but the Cabinet Division had refused to disclose it after stating that it was secret.
Justice Aurangzeb questioned the petitioner about the rationale of keeping information regarding gifts received by governmental employees to himself and the presidents.

The hearing was postponed until the following month by Justice Aurangzeb, who ordered the federal administration to inform the court of the records that are now accessible.

Justice Aurangzeb stated in April that the government can disclose the specifics of the Toshakhana presents that former prime minister Imran Khan received since there is no court injunction preventing the release of the material.

The judge had said that when foreign heads of state make a gesture by giving presents, the government returns the favor. He continued by saying that since Toshakhana presents were given to state officials, who should not be permitted to collect them after paying a little fee, the government should create a regulation regarding them.

Abrar Khalid, the petitioner in the prior case, had requested information on gifts that former PM Khan had received from the PIC. The Cabinet Division had objected to the request and argued before the PIC that the Right to Access to Information Act of 2017 did not apply to this situation.

It contended that the material could not be requisitioned under the Access to Information Act, citing a letter from April 4, 1993, that had labeled the specifics of Toshakhana as “classified/secret.”

An appeal was then submitted to the IHC by the Cabinet Division, alleging that the PIC order was “illegal.” The previous PTI administration had taken the position that the disclosure of any material pertaining to Toshakhana may jeopardize international ties. The Lahore High Court (LHC) ordered the federal government to give full information about the Toshakhana presents received by political leaders and bureaucrats from foreign dignitaries since the founding of Pakistan earlier this month after hearing a similar case.

The LHC issued its orders in response to a federal law officer’s argument that the record of the Toshakhana articles was of a classified character and could not be made public while working on behalf of the Centre.

The judge remarked that the information was only kept secret when a purchaser or retainer of Toshakhana products was required to report their purchases on their yearly tax returns.

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