THE incumbent government must be appreciated for its move to make the entire record of Toshakhana (depository of gifts received) from 2002 onwards. A 446-page record of gifts from 2002 to March 2023 has been released which includes the details of gifts received by the presidents and prime ministers, including Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Asif Ali Zardari, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and General (retd) Pervez Musharraf. All of them took away jewel class sets and other gifts by paying minimal or no costs at all. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif is the only ruler who retained no expensive or jewel-class gift from the Toshakhana and surrendered them, revealing the latest Toshakhana record from 2002 till now.
The government has set a good example aimed at transparency which would, hopefully, ensure misuse of Toshakhana gifts received by the government leaders and senior officials. In fact, receipt of gifts is no crime as, during foreign visits, the host countries invariably present such gifts as a gesture of hospitality and the guest cannot decline such courtesies. Retention of such gifts is also no crime if the recipient followed the procedure laid down by the government for the purpose and, therefore, there was absolutely no justification to make it a political stunt or a basis for someone’s character assassination. However, there are two issues involved – sale of the gifts so received from foreign dignitaries, their declaration in the statement of assets that all officials are required to file every year/income tax returns and the nominal cost that one has to pay for their retention. As for sale of gifts, it is not appropriate as it amounts to showing disrespect to the goodwill gesture of foreign hosts with repercussions for the overall image of the country. The market value of the gifts is assessed and the one who received the gift can keep them after depositing them with the Toshakhana by paying ten or fifteen percent of the assessed value. Though all this was legal but not fair, costly gifts should be retained by wealthy and influential people by paying only nominal cost. There is, therefore, a need to review the entire procedure for evaluation and disposal of gifts and a highly transparent and fair mechanism evolved for the purpose. The system should be foolproof as costly gifts cannot be left unattended in Toshakhana for unauthorized use/disposal as we usually witness in the case of vehicles given to police under the notorious ‘superdari’ system.