Shameful conduct – 14 Mar 2023

THE Toshakhana saga has taken another sordid turn after the release of department records from 2002 to 2022.

Though most of the public`s attention thus far had been focused on expensive watches received and sold by former prime minister Imran Khan, the released records have now shone a spotlight on other prominent leaders` practices as well. From a cursory look at the document provided, it appears that almost no leader who served in an official position during this 20-year period thought it unfair to take advantage of the privileges of their office to procure for personal use various invaluable objects at throwaway prices. Even politicians who otherwise insist that their vast wealth is purely generational had no qualms about paying pennies on the dollar for items they should easily have been able to afford on their own.

The situation is even more contemptible if one considers the fact that the practice of gift-giving at the official level almost always involves a guid pro quo. If our officials received gifts, they also gave items of considerable or even comparable value away. However, the gifts presented by our officials were not paid for with their personal wealth but from public funds. Therefore, would retaining gifts for a small fraction of their value be justified, considering that it was the public which was actually footing the bill for such exchanges? This and similar questions are being asked as citizens parse the Toshakhana records. It is, indeed, a great service to the public that a part of them has finally been released. However, as the Lahore High Court also asked yesterday, what of the pre-2002 record? And why are some stakeholders continuing to insist on withholding information relating to who it was who gave these gifts? Why does the public not deserve to know these facts? The state`s caginess suggests there are things it still wishes to keep hidden from the public. The demand for a record of gifts given to various judges and military officers, reiterated yesterday by the PTI, also remains unanswered. It would be in the interest of transparency and accountability that the public knows how leaders have been benefiting from their offices. There should be pressure on the government to tighten the Toshakhana rules to prevent any more personal enrichment at the cost of the state.

The released records have raised an important question: how is the value of each gift assessed, and by whom? Greater checks and balances are needed so that each item can be valued fairly, perhaps by an independent expert who is free from pressure.

Only items that are perishable or of no consequential value (when fairly assessed) ought to be allowed to be kept. Anything else should be retained only in lieu of full payment.

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