The PTI government's refusal on Monday to make public the list of gifts received by Prime Minister Imran Khan has caused as much controversy as the news itself.
According to a report on Monday in Dawn, the cabinet division filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court challenging the Pakistan Information Commission order which sought details of the gifts received by PM Khan since he assumed office.
The government claims the disclosure of this information "jeopardizes international ties."
This was echoed by SAPM Shahbaz Gill who tweeted on Monday that releasing such a list and comparing gifts with those of other countries was inappropriate, especially by Muslim nations whom Pakistan enjoys brotherly relations.
The Toshakhana department falls under the administrative control of the cabinet and applies to the rules listed pertaining to receipt and use of gifts given to Pakistan's heads of state. The four-page document, issued in December 2018, lists the procedure for acceptance and disposal of gifts by government/public functionaries. Under the rules, any gift over a certain value must be deposited in Toshakhana. A gift can also be kept by the recipient provided they pay a certain percentage of the price as deemed by the evaluation committee.
As Irfan Raza wrote in Dawn in 2020, the Toshakhana has valuables "ranging from bulletproof cars, gold-plated souvenirs, expensive paintings to watches, ornaments, rugs and swords."
Former president Asif Ali Zardari and ex-prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Yousuf Raza Gillani have been charged with abusing Toshakhana. They face charges for only paying 15% of price of luxury vehicles.
In his story, Raza quotes a bureaucrat who did not want to be named as saying public officials often do not declare receiving a gift.
Over the years there have been many scandals related to gifts received by high level officials.
The curious case of the necklace donated by Turkey's First Lady in 2010 for flood victims in Pakistan, for example, gained prominence when it was reported lost and then found in then Prime Minister Gillani's possession. He was ordered to return it to her in 2015.
Why the reluctance?
Social media is rife with speculation and confusion as to why the PTI government won't disclose the information.
The PIC had directed the cabinet division to provide the requested information about the gifts received and retained by the prime minister as well as share that information "within 10 working days and upload it on the official website as well."
The cabinet division, however, argues that information is "is classified with the direction of the Prime Minister’s Office 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 jeopardising interstate relations.”
In response the PIC said "it was not the “certified information, but absence of certified information [that] contributes to ‘media hype’ and results in ‘unwarranted stories’, creating trust deficit between citizens and public institutions," as quoted by Dawn.
The refusal to disclose has also caused speculation on Twitter with people wondering why the government is looking for ways out of disclosure.
Replies to Dr Gill's tweets were also questioned.
People also wondered if the refusal was tantamount to hypocrisy.
One user, however, pointed out that the prime minister may not be aware of what's being done in his name.