By Sanaullah Khan
The federal cabinet has introduced a fresh policy on presents given to government functionaries by foreign dignitaries, among which include a $300 ceiling on gifts that could be retained, it emerged on Tuesday.
The new ‘Toshakhana Procedure for the Acceptance and Disposal of Gifts, 2023’, dated March 8, includes a fresh set of guidelines for ministries and divisions to adhere to.
The guidelines were released by the government alongside the Toshakhana records of 2002 onwards.
Established in 1974, the Toshakhana is a department under the administrative control of the Cabinet Division and stores precious gifts given to rulers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats, and officials by heads of other governments and states and foreign dignitaries.
According to Toshakhana rules, gifts/presents and other such materials received by persons to whom these rules apply shall be reported to the Cabinet Division.
The department has been in the news in recent months in light of proceedings against former prime minister Imran Khan for “not sharing details” of Toshakhana gifts.
The most significant change in the rules, according to the memo, involves gifts that exceed $300, which straight away become the state’s property to be disposed of according to Toshakhana rules.
“Gift(s) valuing upto USD 300 shall be allowed to be retained by the recipient after due payments as per its assessed market value,” the memo said. “The gift(s) exceeding this monetory (sic) limit shall straightaway become state/Toshakhana property to be deposited and disposed of according to Toshakhana Procedure.”
The exception to antiques and gifts of historical value that are to be displayed in government buildings.
The new policy clearly states that all gifts, irrespective of their price, received by government functionaries must be “reported” and “deposited” in Toshkhana within “30 days of receipt of the gifts” or “30 days from the date of return to Pakistan in case of foreign visit”.
It adds that “punitive action” will be taken against the individual recipient if they do not report the receipt of gifts and deposit the Toshakhana within the time limit.
The “chief of protocol”, who is an officer of the foreign ministry, or his representative attached to visiting dignitaries or delegations will be responsible to supply the list of the gifts received and the names of their recipients.
In cases where the protocol chief and his representative are not associated, the ministry sponsoring the event will be responsible for providing the details.
“In the case of outgoing delegations or visits abroad of our dignitaries, it shall be the responsibility of the ambassador of Pakistan and or head of the Pakistan mission in the country concerned to report the receipt of the gifts with the name of the recipients”.
However, the new policy has shown leniency toward gifts of perishable items that can be retained “without reporting or depositing” them.
It has also prohibited any government functionary “except those in BPS 1 to BPS 4” from receiving cash awards as gifts.
“Such gifts may be politely refused. In case, it becomes impossible to refuse without causing offence to the visiting dignitary, the amount shall be immediately deposited in the government treasury and a copy of the treasury challan shall be provided to the Toshakhana Incharge, Cabinet Division.”
The new Toshakhana policy has also prohibited government functionaries from receiving gifts for their spouses or for members of their families. However, if the gift cannot be declined due to any reason, it must be deposited with the Toshakhana immediately.
“Such gifts received by the president/head of the government for their person or their family members shall be deposited in Toshakhana for determination of assessed market value, retention cost, and further disposal as per Toshakhana Procedure. These instructions do not apply to gifts and donations made to institutions.”
It adds that experts in the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and private appraisers will assess the value of the gifts whereas an expert of Pakistan Ordnance Factories Wah will assess the value of weapons received as gifts.
“If the difference in the value of gifts assessed by the two categories of appraisers is less than 25 per cent, the higher value will be accepted. However, if the difference in value is 25pc or more, a committee to be constituted by the cabinet secretary shall decide the final value.”
The evaluation process for assessing the value of the gifts shall be completed within 30 days after declaration by the recipient.
Animals received as gifts will be transferred to the nearest Remount Veterinary and Farms Corps for early sale or being handed over to the Zoological Garden.
“Gold and Silver bullions shall be sent to State Bank of Pakistan — Mint.”
According to the new policy, the auditor general of Pakistan shall conduct an annual audit of Toshakhana. “The cabinet secretary, with approval of the prime minister, shall dispose of gifts either through a display at prominent government buildings, a donation to charities or public auction, in the manner explained in this policy”.
However, gifts that cannot be retained, donated, or displayed shall be publicly auctioned once or twice a year. A committee will be formed by the Cabinet Division for this purpose. The list of gifts that need to be auctioned shall be advertised in the newspapers and on the cabinet division’s website.
“The cabinet secretary, with approval of the PM, shall donate proceeds of the auction to Pakistan Baitul Maal and other reputed charitable organisations,” the new policy said. “Antique items and vehicles shall not be allowed to be purchased by the recipients.”
Antiques will be placed in the museums or displayed in official government buildings whereas “vehicles shall be given to the Central Pool of Cars of the Cabinet Division.”
It is pertinent to mention that now the cabinet division shall update the list of gifts of Toshakhana on its website every quarter.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Coverpage’s editorial stance.