Pakistan’s two prime ministers, Yousuf Raza Gilani and Nawaz Sharif, are currently facing NAB cases for buying government luxury cars at low prices or for other irregularities.
The tradition of exchanging gifts between rulers and ministers of different countries is centuries old and is still alive today in diplomatic tradition.
In Pakistan, gifts received by foreign dignitaries from the President, Prime Minister and senior government officials are kept in the official ‘ToshaKhana’.
‘ToshaKhana’ is a Persian word. According to the Rekhta dictionary, it means “the house where the clothes, apparel and jewellery of the rich are stored”.
Gifts for the President, Prime Minister, Ministers, Chairman Senate, Speaker National Assembly, Provincial Chief Ministers, Judges, Government Officers and even ordinary people accompanying the government delegation during their overseas tour in Pakistan. It is necessary to bring to the notice of the Cabinet Division and submit here. After which they can either be bought at half price or they are officially auctioned off.
What is the use of closet gifts?
A story by Waseem Abbasi in Urdu News revealed that all official gifts are deposited in the treasury. However, after submission, gifts worth up to Rs 30,000 can be received free of cost by the President, Prime Minister or any person who has received a gift.
However, for gifts worth more than 30,000, these individuals are required to pay half of the estimated value, after which they become his property.
The cost is estimated by the FBR and private experts. However, under the December 2018 Code, gifted vehicles and antiques cannot be purchased, but are used by the government and the artefacts are on display in the President, Prime Minister’s House, museum or government buildings.
The PTI government announced in October last year an auction of about 200 ToshaKhana gifts. According to a letter issued by the Cabinet Division in this regard, only government employees and army employees can participate in the auction of these items.
But the notification was challenged in the Lahore High Court after which the Lahore High Court on May 25 this year declared the policy of secret auction of official gifts in the treasury unconstitutional.
Lahore High Court Chief Justice Qasim Khan, while hearing the case, had ordered the government to legislate on it. According to the verdict, the counsel for the petitioner argued in the court that the contents of the treasury were public property.
The Chief Justice had said in his remarks, “Make a museum of these things. Not including the public in the bid is tantamount to repulsion.”
According to a senior official of the Cabinet Division, the Cabinet Division is currently formulating a new policy on these gifts, but it is also possible that the decision of the Lahore High Court will be challenged in the Supreme Court.
What are the gifts in the closet?
According to government officials, gifts that the president, prime minister or officials do not buy are sold at auction after a certain period of time. According to the details submitted to the Lahore High Court, the treasury currently has several items ranging from Rs 1,200 cups to watches worth Rs 1.5 crore, including Kalashnikovs, paintings, watches, pens and stationery.
The 2017-18 report was submitted during the hearing in the Lahore High Court. According to the report, 90 bureaucrats bought 27 million gifts from the treasury.
Shehzad Anjum, section officer of the Interior Ministry, bought jewellery worth Rs 0.9 million. Javed Iqbal, program manager of PAC Kamra, bought a Bulgarian watch worth 2.7 million. President’s Protocol Officer Muhammad Saeed bought several items.
Najibullah of the Cabinet Division bought the statue for Rs. 600 and Ghulam Muhammad bought the carpet for only Rs. 3,500.
The Secretary to the Presidency bought a marble decorating piece for Rs. 2,000 while the Assistant Secretary to the Protocol of the Presidency bought a gift of a rare fly cut in amber for Rs. 3,000. A picture of the decoration on the wall was bought for Rs. 20,560.
In addition, a lamp was bought for Rs 2,400 and a gift box for Rs 45,500. The box contained an imported perfume set, frankincense, cigarette lighter and rare fragrances.
Saeed Khan bought two decorating pieces for Rs. 9,500 and a dagger for Rs. 3,250 while Muhammad Bilal Zafar bought a table cloth for Rs. 3,000.
Assistant Cabinet Division Rizwan Ahmed bought a dagger for Rs 4,000. Secretary Planning and Development Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui bought the Bella bowl for Rs 2,000. Secretary Statistics Division Rukhsana Yasmeen bought two carpets for Rs 22,000 and Rs 25,000 respectively.
Najibullah, SO Cabinet Division, bought a statue of the Friendship Symbol for Rs. 600.
ToshaKhana case against former PM
The court is currently hearing the case against former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. In this case, the accountability court had issued arrest warrants for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif for not appearing, while former president Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani have been summoned several times.
During the ToshaKhana reference hearing, the court had summoned former President Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on charges of taking vehicles from Pakistan’s official ToshaKhana.
The NAB has told the court that Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif illegally obtained vehicles from then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
The vehicles were gifted by foreign heads of state or leaders to former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari, but are required by law to be deposited in Pakistan’s official treasury or gift centre.
According to the NAB, in 2008 the then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani relaxed the rules and approved to give these vehicles to Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif by paying only 15 per cent.
The NAB alleges that Asif Ali Zardari paid only 15% of the total value of the vehicles through ‘fake accounts’. Asif Zardari, as President, also received cars as gifts from Libya and the UAE.
According to NAB sources, the original value of the three vehicles of these new models was Rs 60 million. However, initially, only Rs 9 million was paid while more money was deposited on the objection of the excise office and thus the three vehicles were handed over to Asif Zardari on payment of Rs 20 million.
The NAB was of the view that Asif Zardari used three vehicles himself instead of depositing them in the treasury.
Regarding the former prime minister, the NAB said that Nawaz Sharif was not in any post in 2008. Nawaz Sharif was given a car from ToshaKhana in 2008 without any application and Abdul Ghani Majeed paid for these cars with fake accounts.
In the initial NAB interrogation at Kot Lakhpat Jail, Nawaz Sharif had stated that he had been given a 1992 model car as a gift from a friendly country during his second term, which was deposited in the national treasury in 1997. The car was later gifted to him in 2008 without an application. He said he did not know the car had been bought illegally.
According to sources, the original price of the Mercedes car that Nawaz Sharif got was Rs 4.2 million, of which 15 per cent or Rs 600,000 was paid and the car was given to him as a gift by the PPP government.
In the reference, the accused former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said that he gave the vehicles of Tosha Khana to Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari according to the rules and regulations.
Yousuf Raza Gilani said that the said vehicles were given on the recommendation of the Secretary Cabinet and this was done on receipt of summary as per law.