A Historic Event

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

I was recently honored to attend a historic event of the lawyers, by the lawyers, for the lawyers, rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of the community. The host Mr. Zaheer Ahmad Advocate, Chairman Professionals’ Social Network shared that it was the first time after 30 long years that two titans of legal community, the globally renowned Mr. Hamid Khan and widely acknowledged Mian Israr-Ul-Haq shared the same stage in such a high-profile event. When the two went on the stage holding hands the entire venue erupted with thunderous clapping.

The reconciliation between the two legends mentioned above is extremely important as the candidates of Mrs. Asma Jehangir group had been capitalizing on their division in the bar elections. Though the result is never fully certain in any election but with their alliance the fate of the upcoming bar elections seems all but sealed in favor of the candidates supported by the professionals of Mr. Hamid Khan’s group.

The importance of this event was evident from the huge attendance with hundreds of lawyers standing to attend the event till the end upon finding the seating filled-up. Undoubtedly it was one of the larger such gatherings that I have witnessed.

Lawyers are the most educated segment of any society. They’re “double graduates” which becomes more relevant in our country with an officially claimed literacy rate of just 57%. In the context of Pakistan whose founder Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a renowned and top lawyer of his time, this sheds light on the important role lawyers had and can play for the future of the country. Undoubtedly there are good and bad elements in every society and its sub-segments. However with increased awareness of rights and laws, lawyers had traditionally been at the fore front of the campaigns for the rule of law and the rights of the masses. The infamous and unprecedented lawyers’ movement has been a testament to that. It’s also worth noting that bars are one of the most if not the most democratic institutions in Pakistan where elections had been held regularly even during the martial-laws in the country. This is highly commendable considering the troubled history of democracy in Pakistan.

The dependence of an independent and increasingly assertive judiciary on the bars for necessary support to stand up to the tyrants or oppressive regimes make the bar elections extremely important, not just for the lawyers or judiciary but the country as a whole. With Lahore and Punjab High Court Bar elections approaching, lawyers across the electoral domains are gearing up to elect their representatives.

Professionals’ Social Network, a legal chamber as well as an NGO (one that is actually helping masses and especially legal professionals), organized a Hi-Tea on 19th December in the honor of Chaudhary Ishtiaq, the Presidential candidate for Lahore Bar Association (LBA). Among the eminent dignitaries were regal names of legal fraternity including Mr. Hamid Khan, Mian Israr-Ul-Haq, Mian Abdul Quddous, Mr. Syed Kaleem Ahmad Khurshid, Mr. Ahmad Awais, Rana Naeem Sarwar, Muhammad Aslam Zar, Mian Muhammad Aslam, Mr. Baber Waheed, Mr. Syed Muhammad Shah, Mr. Mansoor-ur-Rehman Afridi, Chaudhary Abdul Wahid, Chaudhary Tanvir Akhtar, Mian Khalid Habib Elahi, Mr. Tassawar Hussain Quraishi and Mr. Shafqat Mehmood Chohan, the presidential candidate for Lahore High-Court Bar Association, also graced the occasion.

The event started with beautiful recitation of Holy Quran by Hafiz AbuBakr Awan Advocate who also did “dua” in the end. Muhammad Akbar Advocate’s exquisite “Naat” touched everyone. Rai Salahuddin Kharal Advocate performed the duties of stage secretary delightfully.

Mr. Zaheer Ahmad Advocate in his welcome address thanked the guests of honor, eminent dignitaries, the bar members and media representatives attending the event. He highlighted the historic moment of having both Mr. Hamid Khan and Mian Israr-ul-Haq on the same stage and pointed out that they both share the invaluable qualities of an impeccable character and unflinching financial integrity. He rightly said that their contributions to the legal profession will be written in golden letters. Addressing the elements trying to snub the independent judiciary he warned them that the above mentioned leaders of lawyers’ movement have not retired and lawyers are ready to face them under their command. The hall roared with the sound of claps.

Mr. Ishtiaq Chaudhary Advocate thanked the host and the attendees for supporting his candidature. He presented his manifesto which was lauded by the attendees and promised that whatever the result maybe he will work for the betterment of the legal community. He mentioned his previous contributions and committed to continue with the same essence. His address ended with applause by everyone.

Next Mian Israr-Ul-Haq was welcomed with a standing ovation. He also thanked everyone, then proceeded to praise Mr. Hamid Khan and appreciated the host. Referring to the character, work and reputation of Mr. Ishtiaq Chaudhary, he claimed that he was indeed the best candidate for the LBA. His address was praised and lauded by a highly motivated gathering.

This led to the address of Mr. Hamid Khan who was welcomed with a round of applause with everyone on their feet. His address was regularly greeted with thundering accolades. Thanking the host he appreciated the wonderful gathering. Stating that the lawyers’ movement was for a purpose and lawyers will not shy away from any sacrifices for strengthening the judiciary. He stressed that the institutions are supreme. He praised the work and candidature of Chaudhary Ishtiaq as well as the efforts of Mr. Zaheer Ahmad Advocate and others for running an effective campaign.

Mian Khalid Habib Elahi, advocate Supreme Court then delivered a note of thanks appreciating everyone who attended. Everyone who worked for the success of the event was thanked. Mr. Umair Khan Niazi and his team including Mr. Shahdab Jafri, Mr. Anis Ali Hashmi, Mr. Gohar Nawaz Sindhu, Mrs. Zainab Lodhi and Ms. Zehrish Fatima were specially named and thanked.

This was followed by sumptuous refreshments served individually to everyone. This was impressive as there was no rush, pushing or spilling of food but a calm, content and disciplined environment. If only these traits can become a regular feature of our natural character than with the resources and talent on our disposal, our nation can rise to unprecedented heights of glory.

The writer is a leading economist who is also a qualified chartered accountant, financial analyst and anti-money laundering expert. He can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk

 

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Resolving (PMLN) Govt’s Taxation Policy Pitfalls

Published in Pakistan Today on 10th December 2013

http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/12/09/comment/tax-reforms/ )

Short Link (for sharing on social media): http://wp.me/p1UdGw-1gZi

Tax Reforms – Key to Solving Pakistan’s Dilemma

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

 

Taxation is an extremely important source of funding for any state to finance the running of the Governmental functions. Even the oil rich Arab states are now beginning to recognize the importance of this and starting to shift towards a lasting economy with citizens contributing to the national treasury with their share of the taxes.

To put it simply in all global economies, there is taxation both direct and indirect (in different combinations). Direct taxation is a tax directly levied on an individual or business’s income while indirect taxation entails taxes on products and services whereby consumers are made to pay taxes when they consume these.

In developed countries, realizing that taxation is necessary for providing them with necessary facilities, most citizens contribute their share to the state finances. Direct taxation is the dominant part of the tax system in such countries as it accrues some substantial benefits for the economy, people and the state. Importantly, direct taxation allows richer segments of the society to be taxed more and poorer classes are provided with relief and benefits. This proportionate taxation not only help smooth the flow of money across various classes of the society but it also helps in ensuring that every citizen has a minimum living standard by providing state assistance where required.

However, a different story is at work in Pakistan. A culture of tax avoidance has long engulfed the business horizons. An ongoing cat and mouse fight between the tax authorities and the taxpayers, with the later believing that it would be a waste to pay off their tax bills due to the deep pockets of the corrupt government officials, has led to a greater focus on indirect taxation. While the tax and state officials rightly point out that no state can perform the necessary duties with the empty coffers, the tax payers also have their point in that they don’t see any real delivery of essential services but instead are greeted with stories of herculean corruption rife all around. The plague of corruption is widely believed to be consuming most of the available resources. Hence, there seems to be a massive break-down of trust between the taxpayers and the “tax-man”.

This serious trust deficit leads to a difficult situation where finance ministry overemphasises on indirect taxation to try to bolster its coffers.  Unfortunately this approach has serious negative ramifications for Pakistan’s economy and people which has manifested in worsening the already declining economic situation of the country.

In Pakistan, ordinary people are taxed indirectly on just about everything. Nowhere in the developed world is indirect taxation utilized as heavily as in Pakistan due to the negative effects that it creates for the economy. In Pakistan’s case (and that of many other developing countries following this strategy) the negative impacts far outweigh the contributions raised in this manner due to the missed opportunity costs.

For example, 25-30% had been routinely charged as an indirect tax on every liter of fuel (mainly Petrol, Diesel, e.t.c.) in Pakistan which is a basic necessity for everyday life compared to only 13% in the USA. This way of collecting taxes indirectly leads to inflationary pressures in the economy as the increased transportation costs translates into increased prices for just about everything including the commonly used commodities. The effects are hyper-inflationary in nature because there is a multiplicative rather than an additive element in the inflation passed-on at every level.

Furthermore the pay-rises are not proportionate to inflation thereby forcing people to rely on expensive credit to make their ends meet. Similarly businesses also require more finance to run their operations. This hyper-inflationary environment then leads to higher interest rate which negatively affects the businesses. With higher finance costs many business projects which would otherwise be viable becomes non-feasible. The resulting lack of employment opportunities combined with the limited money-supply puts recessionary pressures on the market. The above issues lead to the devaluation of the currency which in turn results in increased foreign debt burden. As a result, financing costs of the foreign debts rise leading to a higher proportion of GDP spent on debt financing. All this combined with hyper-inflation drags the already estranged economy further back in Pakistan’s case.

The above is a summary of the mess created by the taxation policies pursued by the previous government which are unfortunately continued by the incumbent finance ministry.  The result is that while the standard of living of especially urban Pakistanis is generally considered well-off compared to most developing countries, Pakistan is considered to be lagging behind economically in the league of the nations.

What is actually required is to restore the faith of the taxpayers by implementing a multi-dimensional tax reforms agenda where:

  • Taxpayers are encouraged and incentivized for paying taxes.
  • Taxpayers are facilitated by making the process easier and fairer, focusing on maximum automation in order to stem out corruption.
  • Instead of increasing the tax rates the tax net is constantly widened.
  • More focus is given to direct taxation.
  • Meaningful tax rebates and reliefs are introduced for the less able sections of the society.
  • A system of proportionate taxation is adopted with more affluent contributing more to the treasury.
  • Certain exempt sectors are brought into the tax-net (subsidies can be given for assisting any under-pressure areas/products).
  • Tax rebates and incentives are introduced to encourage foreign/local investments in key sectors with tax-breaks for transfer of technology, e.t.c. as may be required in a particular sector.
  • Tax money is actually spent on public welfare and infrastructure projects, which will improve the spending capacity and the business environment in Pakistan.
  • The massive corruption in public contracts/projects, now routinely in the range of 40-50% of tender values, is eradicated for better and efficient use of public money through revamping the pay and accountability structures.

With all the natural resources at our disposal, a high proportion of population been young and hardworking and cheap labor availability, a fairer system of taxation culminating into a fairer economic policy can provide the necessary environment to harness the economic potential of Pakistan.

The key reforms outlined above, if properly implemented, can resolve the current enigma facing the treasury. Should such reforms be made with reliance on local resources and a will for change, there is no reason, why Pakistan cannot stand on its own feet and become an economic hub not only for the region but the whole world.

The writer is a leading economist who is also a qualified chartered accountant, financial analyst and anti-money laundering expert. He can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk

Rejoinder to “Futility and bombast” in ET

Rejoinder to “Futility and bombast” in ET

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

(Below is my response within 400 words, to the Express Tribune (ET) editorial titled Futility and bombast dated 7th December 2013.

It was published in Express Tribune on 11th December 2013

http://tribune.com.pk/story/644080/in-defence-of-the-ptis-stance-on-nato-supplies/#comment-1885823 )

Surprisingly it seems from the editorial that we as a nation have reached a state of mind where not raising a voice for our rights seems logical to us. With American drones hitting settled areas of Pakistan after killing the peace process by hitting Hakimullah at the wrong time despite letting him go at-least two/three times before this could well have been the beginning of the end with American strikes in Islamabad, Karachi, Quetta, e.t.c. at will.

If anything PTI’s protest has managed to stop just that. Also this sent out a strong message and strengthened Pakistan’s position resulting in Chuck Hagel, the American Defense Secretary visiting Pakistan for the first time in 4 years. This also raises the question that if the alternate routes are so viable and the rhetoric of “I couldn’t care less” propagated by American administration is not a bluff than why Mr. Hagel needed to meet PM Pakistan to request the lifting of the blockade?

Internationally most NATO countries support the stance that these drone strikes are illegal and that US should sell Pakistan the technology to takeout any unwanted elements.  It is now up-to the federal government whose responsibility it is in the first place to defend Pakistan’s sovereignty, how they utilize this position of strength for Pakistan.

As to the “goods” transported via Pakistan one can see armored carriers to totally covered “equipment” in the pictures published in most national newspapers. If one believes the propaganda that they are “least” important then PTI’s success in putting immense pressure on the US administration using this “least valuable” asset of a route is tremendous to say the least.

One needs to remember that the American establishment realizes the potential and strength of Pakistan but plays with our psychological fears to achieve its strategic ends. We should realize our potential and get out of the quagmire of fear Musharraf left us in. Only this way can we begin to build and strengthen our nation.

Lastly the continuous focus on the supposed “massive” loss to economy is neither material not these peanuts are going to last forever. The focus should be on building a lasting economy and not feasting on temporary blood money at the cost of massive destruction and losses of over $ 100 billion.

Rejoinder to perplexing “Whither PTI?”

Rejoinder to perplexing “Whither PTI?” (28 Nov13)

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

(Below was written with 400 words limit in response to an article titled “Whither PTI?” published in The News dated 28th Nov 13)

Comparing a political party’s struggle for its people to a mafia amounts to tainting the glorious struggles for just causes across the globe transversely through time and nations. Does the writer believe all those heroes to be mafias too? Perspective and intentions are everything. Just like a soldier’s war for a just cause cannot be compared with mafia wars, similarly a political party protesting for its peoples’ lives cannot be either.

What is an honest leader and a political party supposed to do if their federal government does not fulfill its social contract to protect its citizens from foreign aggression? Stay silent on the massacres?

The drone attack inside KPK was on mainland Pakistan and if unchecked can lead to our major cities getting bombed at will. If anything, PTI should be praised and appreciated for not only are they allowing people to retain faith in the system but also strengthening the hands of the federal government on a national issue.

The transporters’ income mentioned repeatedly in the article is neither material macro-economically nor going to last forever. It is better to make permanent alternates now. In any case the losses of over $ 100 billion (much more than total foreign debt of Pakistan), along with 50,000 lives sacrificed makes this seems like a peanut anyway.

As for USAID projects, Mr. Imran Khan has repeatedly clarified that they’re from previous government’s tenure and that  PTI did not enter into any new ones. It is flawed logic to justify foreign aggression on this pretext. Humanitarian aid does not give a license to kill to the donors.

It is high time that we think out of the box with an open mind and break the shackles of fears Musharraf gifted us. Pakistan is not Libya, Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s a vital nuclear armed nation, which the US in financial crisis, in an increasingly multi-polar world is dependent on in more ways than one. Problem is that we, ourselves fail to realize and capitalize on this.

Remember if there’s a problem within your home you do not allow outsiders to punish your family members. Pakistan has repeatedly offered USA to transfer predator drone technology so that we can ourselves take care of the unwanted elements. If USA is sincere why it refuses to do so and instead act to destabilize Pakistan?

Pak Politics (II) – Imran Khan vs the rest

Published in Pakistan Today on 3rd December 2013

http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/12/02/comment/perspective-on-pakistani-politics-ii/ )

Short Link (for sharing on social media): http://wp.me/p1UdGw-1gOH

Link to part (I): https://omerzaheermeer.wordpress.com/2013/11/28/pak-politics-imran-khan-vs-machiavellians-i/

Perspective on Pakistani politics (II)

Imran Khan vs the rest

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

 

 Then again we know it is the same Imran Khan who began his journey to fame by challenging the commonly held notions through hard-work, faith and utmost dedication.

He was told he can never be a fast bowler due to physical issues yet the world witnessed the greatness he achieved. Pakistan were deemed not to have even an outside chance at the crown jewel of cricket mid-way into the 92 cricket world cup but he led the team like cornered tigers and succeeded in fetching victory from the jaws of defeat.

Another mile stone was achieved for Pakistan when Khan was once again told about another impossible. This time the leading medical experts opined that a cancer hospital with mostly free services was not even feasible in USA let alone Pakistan yet today we all know about the glorious standards and services emanating from Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (SKMCHRCwhich has won several excellence awards servicing about 75% of its patients for free.

Imran Khan then focused his attention on the much neglected area of education. He dreamed of creating a world standard institute ultimately transforming into a knowledge city where education and degrees of international standards would be conferred upon students. Further he as usual wanted the doors of this opportunity to be open for those less fortunate segments of our society who could not afford such a dream otherwise. That is why Namal College, the only college in Pakistan to offer a foreign degree, came into being. As Chancellor of Bradford University (UK), Khan set-up links between it and Namal College. As with SKMCHRC, deserving students are provided with free education. Namal is on its way to becoming the first education city of Pakistan in one of the least-developed part of the country.

After delivering in fields ranging from sports to health to education there was still a sense of un-fulfilment resulting from a caring heart disturbed at the massive miseries of a nation in the clutches of ruthless rulers feasting on its resources. It was then that Imran Khan realized that he cannot bring the kind of positive change in the lives of ordinary Pakistanis that he dreamed of. But politics was an ultimate challenge for an honest and non-corrupt person facing the traditional linchpins; the adherents of Machiavelli who would go to any extend to save their fiefdoms built on the carnage of human misery. But Khan has never backed off in the face of adversity. And so began the journey of Change via PTI.

The relentless efforts of a struggle spanning 17 years is a tale of utmost commitment, dedication and perseverance in the face of stiff resistance by forces opposed to change.

First time in the history of not only Pakistan but entire South-Asian region, proper and large-scale intra-party elections were held as per the true democratic norms. This was unprecedented and a slap on the faces of traditional parties who continue to act as family limited companies.

The way Imran Khan galvanized youth is unprecedented in Pakistan. It ensured that other parties realized the importance of youth and started projects to entice youth, the credit for which ultimately goes to Imran too. He made the youth realized their own importance and how they need to take matters in their own hands to change the destiny of Pakistan. That indifference was no longer a feasible option.

The infamous “tsunami” hit the overseas Pakistanis much before it arrived in Pakistan. Having firsthand experienced the facilities offered by welfare states, the rights given and the liberties offered, they were the first to affirm Imran’s message of Change for a better Pakistan. They worked day and night for the cause. First time a political party in Pakistan had a base of paid members. Donations of millions of dollars poured in from all over the world. This was all evident of the faith; the brightest and affluent of Pakistan’s children have in Imran Khan.

Some people criticize some mistakes made and Imran Khan has shown the courage to openly accept when there is one, another sign of great leadership. With survival of status-co at stake local, regional as well as international players have invested heavily in the media. If we follow the money trail it becomes obvious that the disproportionate and often distorted criticism of Imran Khan is at the behest of these vested interests.

Despite any drawbacks in PTI, for no human(s) in this age can be perfect, even the worst of his critics agree that he is still the best available option for Pakistan. He is the only one politician who gave Pakistan a lot and even sacrificed his own family life for that. Above all, Imran Khan gave hope and self-respect to a disillusioned nation and politically motivated those, specially the youth, who were indifferent to the process defining their nation’s future.

Imran Khan’s stance on drones and war on terror has remained unchanged. When USA hit the peace dialogues with another drone, despite been in KPK government, Khan stood up for his promises and stance. He refused to compromises whatever may be the cost. A historic public gathering marked the beginning of protests and sit-ins to block supply to NATO via KPK sending out a very strong message to USA to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty. However PMLN’s response was incongruous. Instead of standing by their stance during election campaign and last few years, albeit developed following the lead of Imran Khan, they took a U-turn and opposed his brave move. One can be forgiven for confusing PMLN with PPPP as it put forward the exact arguments PPPP used to and which PMLN had oppose vehemently before coming into power.

Let us rise above any prejudices and self-interests and ask ourselves whether any other politician except Imran Khan has given so much to Pakistan in terms of fame, recognition, social work, awareness, self-respect and hope?  Is there any other politician(s) who has done even a fraction of what Imran has done for this nation without been in power? Is there any other leader whose honesty, courage and positive intent are beyond doubt? Is there any current political leader who has even sacrificed his family life for Pakistan?

If your answer is, and any neutral answer will be, that there is no such politician except Imran Khan then it is high time that we unify to strengthen his hands and work together to make our Pakistan better under his leadership.

The writer is a leading economist who is also a qualified chartered accountant, financial analyst and anti-money laundering expert. He can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk