Citing a letter from 1993, Cabinet Division claims gifts to the premier are classified as revealing their details can endanger international relations
The federal government has refused to provide information on the gifts received by Prime Minister Imran Khan from other countries, claiming such details can prompt media scrutiny that can endanger international relations.
The Cabinet Division, in a petition filed before the Islamabad High Court, claimed that a Pakistan Information Commission order from January 2021 seeking details of the gifts presented to the prime minister since he took office in August 2018 was “illegal, without lawful authority.”
The PIC order had been issued in response to an application by one Abrar Khalid, who had sought details of the gifts received by Khan under the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017. Accepting the application, the PIC had directed the Cabinet Division to “provide the requested information about the gifts received by Prime Minister Imran Khan from foreign head of states, head of governments and other foreign dignitaries [as well as] description/specification of each gift, information about the gifts retained by the P.M. and the Rules under which gifts thus received are retained by him.”
The order had directed the Cabinet Division to share the required information within 10 working days and upload it on the official website as well for public perusal.
In its opposition, the Cabinet Division claimed that details of the gifts received by Khan did not fall within the ambit of the right to information law. Referring to a letter dated April 4, 1993—24 years prior to the promulgation of the Right to Access to Information Act, 2017—it claimed details of the Toshakhana were “classified/secret” and could not be provided to the public.
“The record is ‘classified’ with the direction of the Prime Minister’s Office,” read the response. “As the exchange of gifts between the head of states and the head of governments is reflective of inter-state relations, disclosure of such information potentially damaging the interests of Pakistan in the conduct of international relations jeopardizing interstate relations,” it added.
Expressing his dissatisfaction with the Cabinet Division’s response, the petitioner had noted that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had filed a corruption reference against two former prime minister—Nawaz Sharif and Yousaf Raza Gilani—on the misuse of authority for retention of gifts received from foreign head of the government/dignitaries by Toshakhana. “This proves information about the retention of gifts (received by P.M. from foreign head of the government/dignitaries) is a matter of allegation pertaining to corruption and sub-section (f) of Section-7 of the Right of Access To Information Act, 2017 does not allow the public body to preserve any information relating to prescribed matter,” he added.
The PIC, in its order, had noted that it was the absence of information, and not its availability, that resulted in “unwarranted stories”, and created trust deficit between citizens and public institutions. “Certified requested information will dispel rumors about the reporting of the gifts to Toshakhana by the public officials and their retention price and which elected representative or public official retained which gift at what price,” it added.
No new information
Seeking to defend the premier’s latest u-turn—prior to his election, he would repeatedly accuse rival politicians of ‘corruption’ through gifts—Special Assistant to the P.M. on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill said releasing lists of gifts and opening them up for comparison was considered “inappropriate,” especially by other Islamic countries.
Claiming that Khan deposited all gifts to the Toshakhana, he noted that the premier retained some gifts after paying for them. However, he did not clarify what funds had been deposited with the Toshakhana, or what gifts Khan had chosen to retain.
“During previous tenures, a 15 percent amount was paid for such gifts. However, during the PTI government, a 50 percent price of the gift is deposited to the treasury,” he claimed.