Kids love to compare birthday gifts and do sulk when their friends receive better gifts. But do countries do the same?
The foreign ministry thinks so and has asked the Central Information Commission this week to prevent the identities of foreign leaders who gave gifts to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other dignitaries from coming in the public domain.
The foreign ministry told the transparency watchdog that revealing identities of countries could embarrass foreign countries.
Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra – who was hearing an appeal by HT – wasn’t impressed, suggesting that ministry officials seemed to be going to an absurd length to justify the decision.
No one would be naive enough to evaluate bilateral relations between two governments on the value of the gifts, Mishra remarked during arguments.
The CIC ordered the foreign ministry to “reconsider the entire matter” and bring the CIC decision to the notice of foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai.
For inspiration, the CIC asked the foreign ministry to look at the disclosure policy followed by other democratic countries such as the USA and United Kingdom. The US department of state, for instance, lists five books including “Stories from the Panchatantra” and The Gandhi Collection: History in the Making: The Visual Artchies of Kulwant Roy” gifted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during US visit in November 2009.
US officials valued the books at US $ 3,572 (R1.7 lakh) and sent it to the archives.
Back home in Delhi – when HT filed an RTI application – the government was ready to part with only a list of gifts received along with its valuation by a customs appraiser.
According to the rule-book, all dignitaries have to report gifts received from foreign sources to the Toshkhana at the foreign ministry within a month of their receipt. They can only retain gifts valued below R5,000.
Sources said perishable items and gizmos – which are not claimed by the recipients – are often put to official use.