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State gifts

Gifts and valuables that come the State’s way as a mark of respect and benevolence from other countries are a sacred trust. They are in need of being retained in museums, and their credentials thoroughly made public. This is so because this state-centric tendency of offering gifts is a two-way traffic. The gesture is reciprocated too. And when Pakistan doles out gifts and similar souvenirs to foreign dignitaries, the same are bought from the public exchequer. Thus, from the canons of morality, it is incumbent upon the recipients to promptly submit the received trophies in national exchequer. So is the prevalent thumb rule in civilised modes of governance.

This issue is now under litigation. An honourable judge of the Islamabad High Court has made some great remarks by saying that “people come and go but the… office remains; … and it is not a big thing if money is given to a certain extent and the gift is kept…” The backdrop of such an observation is the modus operandi wherein heads of governments either retain the precious gifts altogether, or pay a token amount to the exchequer in lieu thereof — not only depriving the treasury of its due, but also demeaning the courtesy of the foreign country by brushing the valuables. The gifts belong to the state and its sovereign, and must be documented and retained.

The court, while seeking a list of valuables that came during ex-PM Imran Khan’s tenure, has rightly called for formulating a clear-cut policy that such gifts should be deposited in Toshakhana. The justice quipped that the court would provide constitutional interpretation regarding the matter, if needed. What is required is a thorough probe and disclosure of the contents received by successive governments and as to what was their fate. It is disturbing that the government(s) are reluctant to share this piece of information, and a similar order by PIC to publicise details of the gifts remains unimplemented. Now, the court too wants the information to be made public, and why not! The practice in vogue to retain secrecy hints at skeletons in the cupboard.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2022.

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