Prime Minister Imran Khan has been championing, rightly so, the cause of accountability of rulers. If there is no accountability in a political system, the rulers are corrupt, he has been ferociously advocating. Rightly so. “It is taxpayer’s money, kissi kay baap ka paisa nahin hai,” is a famous, oft-quoted line of Mr Khan. On more occasions than one, he has quoted an occurrence involving the second rightly guided caliph, Hazrat Umar (RA), wherein a companion of the prophet asked the caliph about the two pieces of cloths he was wearing while everyone else got one piece from the war booty. The caliph explained it to the ‘citizen’ that the second piece of cloth was that of his son. Accountability was the cornerstone of Riasat e Madina, Mr Khan always underlined.
Ironically, now Mr Khan, so it seems, has different views on the subject. A citizen, Abrar Khalid, submitted an application to the Pakistan Information Commission to know the details of gifts received by the incumbent prime minister in the last three years. The PIC directed the Cabinet Division to furnish the said details. The Division, however, refusing the information, moved the Islamabad High Court questioning the purview of the PIC. In its petition, the government argued that it is classified/secret information, and divulging it is against ‘national interest’, can damage Pakistan’s image, and hurt its relations with other countries. The government also argued that the details of Toshakhana would get undue media hype and lead to ‘Fake News.
Accountability is the fundamental principle of democracy. The elected representatives of people are answerable to the voters. Citizens have the ‘right to know’, ensured in the constitutions governing democratic dispensations. Transparency and good governance are interlinked, and dependent on laws and practices ensuring citizens’ access to information, particularly on money matters, as all money in a democratic system is considered taxpayers’ money.
What gifts were received by the Prime Minster from the foreign dignitaries is classified information? Why? Has he received tanks and sub-marines? Has he received something illegal? Slaves? What? Our rulers have traditionally avoided
sharing such information with the masses but this stance by Mr Khan is like carrying the joke too far.
The government also believed that making this information public will get ‘unnecessary’ media hype. Going by that principle the rise in electricity, petroleum and LNG prices shall also be implemented without announcement as such news gets lots of ‘unnecessary’ media hype. Real or imaginary, every scandal of the government from Malam Jabba to BRT Peshawar and Billion Tree to Rawalpindi Ring Road project gets loads of media hype. What shall be done about it? Divulging the details of gifts from the heads of friendly countries to the Pakistani PM is against ‘National Interest’? A list of gifts like carpets, watches and swords will damage inter-state relations? The argument is not even funny!
Revealing does not, it’s the hiding of facts from the public that leads to rumours and fake news. And that’s exactly what is happening in this case as well. Mr Khan’s detractors are spreading all kinds of ‘fake news’ about the precious gifts that he has received from the ruler of an Arab state and so on. This maligning of the PM shall stop forthwith, and the proper way to do it is making the list of gifts public. It is a constitutional obligation of the government under article 19-A, period.
According to Toshakhana laws it is simple. The PM can retain the gifts worth under Rs 30,000 and those worth more can be retained by paying 50 percent of the gift value, determined by a special committee of the cabinet division. Even if the PM has retained any gift after paying 50 percent of its value, that’s absolutely legal. This is not a ‘National Security’ issue.
There are two former PMs, Nawaz Sharif and Yusuf Raza Gillani, and a former president, Asif Ali Zardari, who have references against them in a Toshakhana case, based on the information provided by the cabinet division. In that case, Nawaz Sharif has been declared an absconder and loads of his property has been attached. Mr Khan, you said do nahin eik Pakistan. It is exactly the same case. Mr PM is advised not to hide behind any legal smoke. It is time to live upto one’s reputation as ‘Mr Clean’.