Imran-Reham Khan Wedding & Economic Impact of Celebrity Marriages

The following article has been published in Daily Nation, dated 12th January 2015

(E-Paper (Print Edition)http://nation.com.pk/E-Paper/lahore/2015-01-12/page-9)

(Online: http://nation.com.pk/business/12-Jan-2015/economic-impact-of-celebrity-marriages)

Economic Impact of Celebrity Marriages

Prof Dp

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

Cricketer turned philanthropist turned educationist turned politician and a national hero Imran Khan’s wedding with current-affairs TV host Reham Khan captured the imagination of the entire Pakistani nation. While his political opponents were trying to play below the belt, his supporters were celebrating. Though some criticized the timing of the wedding, which in the first place is a private matter, overall the national mood was one of jubilation. The media loves anything related to Imran Khan and his wedding was given unprecedented coverage with hype created by days of speculation followed by most of the prime time across channels being dedicated to the news of the marriage of the most-cherished national celebrity.

It’s simply amazing to observe how some people wrongly believe and propagate that being in a leadership position warrants non-human tendencies or inclinations. What is often missed in such petty arguments is the fact that a satisfied personal life leads to a better professional one be it political or any other field. Anyhow this is not the main topic under discussion today. Although the above-mentioned wedding has been analyzed and discussed from various perspectives, the economic impact of such high-profile marriages is still largely an unchartered territory. This largely ignored aspect will be the prime topic of the rest of this article.

Any modern economy is driven by the overall confidence of the stakeholders including consumers as well as the investors. Good law and order situation, political stability, fiscal prudence, growing foreign reserves, e.t.c. all basically contribute towards building the confidence in an economy. There are also some lesser explored avenues that enhance confidence in economies. Celebrity marriage is one of them.

First of all, national economies are driven by the contribution of the individuals, couples and institutions in the society, hence the concepts of GDP, GNP, e.t.c. Celebrity marriages (particularly like the Imran-Reham Khan ones) create an over-all “feel-good” factor in a nation. This translates into increased consumer confidence, keeping all else equal. Moreover this further strengthens the institution of marriage which itself generate a lot of economic activity particularly in South-Asia due to the various traditions as well as due to long-term financial implications as explored later in this write-up. Such widely-publicized celebrity weddings are common in the west and other developed economies. However in Pakistan, on one hand there are few true high-profile celebrities and on the other hand they prefer to exercise their right to keep their marriages private making high-profile celebrity weddings a rarity.

Celebrity marriages also strengthen the institution of marriage in a society which carries lot of economic positives for national economies. In addition to a married couple’s personal financial situation, a marriage impacts the general economy too. Married people normally accumulate money, thereby enhancing the overall savings in an economy which are used to contribute during the recessionary economic cycles. With the responsibilities of marriage, couples start giving due importance to financial planning too. They save and spend on large purchases and investments in a more financially prudent manner which is not normally the case with single persons. Synergy of resources of the married couples also creates larger pools of resources as well as motivated labor/investors, which all leads to increased economic participation and output. The spending on houses, children, investment properties, e.t.c. are the important things that keep an economy spinning and are propelled by marriages.

Another important aspect is that the philanthropic activities are undertaken by most of such high-profile couples. Imran Khan’s philanthropic work ranges from the field of medical (Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre) to education (Namal University). Similarly Reham Khan has shown interest in the field of educational philanthropy. The interest and excitement garnered by the high-profile celebrity marriages can also be harnessed to further philanthropic causes which not only provide social good but also economic stimulus depending on the magnitude of the project(s). This is evident from the positive way in which Imran Khan & Reham Khan had launched appeal for masses to contribute towards Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital instead of sending them wedding gifts. With this let us congratulate the newly-wed couple and wish them as well as the country peace, prosperity and a better future.

 The author is Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, chartered financial analyst, qualified accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk

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Response to Mark Zukerberg’s attacks on Islam, Prophet Muhammad PBUH & Pakistan

Below is an excerpt from an Express Tribune report on the now infamous hate-mongering by the Islamophobic Facebook CEO Mr. Mark Zukerberg:

“In his Facebook post, he said, “A few years ago, an extremist in Pakistan fought to have me sentenced to death because Facebook refused to ban content about Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) that offended him.”

“As I reflect on yesterday’s attack and my own experience with extremism, this is what we all need to reject — a group of extremists trying to silence the voices and opinions of everyone else around the world,” Zuckerberg wrote.

“I won’t let that happen on Facebook. I’m committed to building a service where you can speak freely without fear of violence,” he assured.

His response was: “It’s not against our policies to talk about Prophet Muhammed (pbuh). We did block the content in Pakistan where it was illegal, but we didn’t block it in the rest of the world where it is legal.”

Instead of very lengthy writeup exposing the hypocrisy of Mr. Zukerberg in detail, I’d just a raise a few questions to put the entire matter in perspective:

a) Clause 3.7 of Facebook’s terms of service states

“You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”

(https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms)

Why is it that the content even questioning Holocaust is removed & strictly penalized but DESPITE requests and protests by over 1.5 Billion Muslims, ridiculing of Prophet Muhammad PBUH (the most revered personality on the planet) is allowed which incites violence & promotes hate speech in VIOLATION of YOUR OWN TERMS of SERVICE?

b) While propagating Voltaire’s support for “freedom of expression” who said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” why do you choose to ignore Zechariah Chafee who said, “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins”, that too ONLY in case of ISLAM?

c) By removing abusive content against Holocaust, e.t.c. but openly stating your support for ridicule of Prophet Muhammad PBUH & Islam are you promoting ‘Freedom of Expression’ or ‘Freedom for Some Expressions’?

d) Is it not true that the “CENSORSHIP” on Facebook has risen by 19% plus over the last year as per various NGO reports?

e) Is any person going to a court of law to challenge something they believe is illegal an extremist, just because they disagree with you?

e) Charlie Hebdo attack happened in France, then why did you choose to attack Pakistan at this time?

f) Why did you stay silent when children were massacred in Palestine by Israel and when 140 angels lost their lives in Peshawar?

g) Will you also classify Bill Donohue, President of the US Catholic League as an extremist and/or terrorist for issuing a statement in the light of the continuous provocations of Muslims that “Muslims are right to be angry.”

h) Is it not true that Facebook is a spy tool which transfers all the private data of its users to CIA & NSA WITHOUT the users even knowing?

i) Why is it that a cartoon of Condolezza Rice is termed as Rascism, a cartoon of Mark Zukerberg is called anti-Semitic but ridiculing of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) (Nauzbillah) is termed as freedom of expression. What is it, if not hypocrisy of the highest order?

If you ponder over the above questions and the fact that even heads of states like the Queen are not allowed to be ridiculed but despicable competitions to ridicule the most revered person on the globe, Prophet Muhammad PBUH are held and supported, you can clearly see that ordinary peace-loving people are provoked and incited for vested interests.

I’ll leave it for you to decide whether such tactics are being used to further an agenda of “clash of civilizations” by provoking and inciting violence and as a result malign an already marginalized Muslim community?.

For all the above reasons, I urge not just all Muslims but peace-loving decent people of all religions to boycott Facebook and start using alternate platforms like Twitter, MillatFacebook, e.t.c.

I’ll end by stating that while Individuals should not resort to violence we must also condemn the senseless hypocrisy to provoke and incite violence. It is high time that all the nations sit together to resolve the issues arising out of the cultural and religious dis-similarities and fault lines. Let the peace prevail & DEFEAT hypocrite hate-mongers like Mr. Zukerberg hiding amongst us.

I demand that in line with Facebook’s own TERMS of service and respecting the emotions of over 1.5 Billion Muslims, Mark Zukerberg should remove the hate-mongering & violence inciting content ridiculing Prophet Muhammad PBUH.

Money-Laundering & Terrorism

The following article has been published in Daily Nation, dated 4th January 2015

(E-Paper (Print Edition): http://nation.com.pk/E-Paper/lahore/2015-01-04/page-9)

(Online: http://nation.com.pk/business/04-Jan-2015/money-laundering-and-terrorism)

Money-Laundering & Terrorism

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

Though the definition of terrorism is still a contentious issue but there is a growing consensus across Pakistan that the cancer of terrorism is plaguing the country and causing more damage than any of the other problems. One commonly accepted viewpoint is that harming or killing of non-combatants particularly women, children and elderly is deemed to be a terrorist activity irrespective of the cause or ideology. While many other aspects of the terrorism problem are discussed nowadays, the extremely important issues of money-laundering and its implications for terrorism are least focused.

The first thing to consider is what exactly is money-laundering? Money laundering can be defined in many ways. Most countries subscribe to the definition adopted by the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988) (Vienna Convention):

The conversion or transfer of property, knowing that such property is derived from any [drug trafficking] offense or offenses or from an act of participation in such offense or offenses, for the purpose of concealing or disguising the illicit origin of the property or of assisting any person who is involved in the commission of such an offense or offenses to evade the legal consequences of his actions;

The concealment or disguise of the true nature, source, location, disposition, movement, rights with respect to, or ownership of property, knowing that such property is derived from an offense or offenses or from an act of participation in such an offense or offenses.

The Vienna Convention further adds that money laundering involves: The acquisition, possession or use of property, knowing at the time of receipt that such property was derived from an offense or offenses … or from an act of participation in such offense or offenses.

In layman’s term money laundering is “the concealment of the origins of illegally obtained funds, typically by means of transfers involving foreign/local financial intermediaries and/or legitimate businesses”. It is the process in which the proceeds of illegal/undeclared activities are transformed into superficially legitimate money or other assets. It is therefore the blood-line of terrorism as without financing no activity, not even terrorism, can sustain itself. The problem of money-laundering is prevalent in almost all the countries across the globe in one form or another. However, in Pakistan the issue is much more severe due to the undocumented culture common amongst businesses and the resulting black-economy.

In pre-9/11 era, money-laundering in Pakistan was mostly associated with corrupt politicians, bureaucracy, generals and businessmen illegally transferring the ill-gotten money out of the country. Switzerland, Caymans’ Island, Rhodes Island and many of the similar off-shore locations were famous as “safe heavens” for the illegitimate monies laundered. The focus was minimal, if any on the funds routed for sectarian terrorism, ripe in Pakistan at that time.

However the advent of 9/11 changed the USA’s financial system with global implications. As a result, financial institutions across the globe were required to introduce additional stringent checks and allow more access to regulators or face sanctions and cutting-off from the global financial system. The developments took shape for better with even Swiss authorities agreeing to provide details of and handing over the proven money-laundered accounts and otherwise illegal funds deposited in their banks and other financial institutions. These developments did dent the flow of funds routed for terror-related activities. In developed countries with document economies, the intelligence agencies were able to wither off major terrorist plots due to the same. Why some countries like Pakistan did not opt to take advantage of these developments and get back their monies illegally stashed overseas warrants an entire write-up.

However, despite the newer laws introduced in the last decade or so most of Pakistan’s economy remains undocumented and hence outside the realms of these processes. Cash transactions and donations still form the bulk of the black-economy. More sophisticated operations utilize front companies/businesses and chains of accounts to route funds in a manner to make them very difficult to trace. The pertinent question is what can be done to address this situation particularly in the wake of USA leaving Afghanistan and Pakistan having to face the worst of the American started war being unleashed on its civilians?

Money-laundering usually requires an underlying profitable crime (like drug trafficking, target killins, corruption, market manipulation, fraud, tax evasion, e.t.c.) or a simply desire to contribute towards a non-mainstream or terrorist cause along with the intent to conceal the proceeds of the crime or to further the criminal enterprise. Hence to begin with, formal banking channels and other financial intermediaries should lower their cost of services to ensure the alternate illegitimate channels become less attractive in terms of cost-competitiveness. Government of Pakistan can legislate to make it a requirement like many others upon the financial industry or simply choose to subsidize financial institutions in part or full to ensure they feel less financial burden.

Moreover this crisis can also be used as an opportunity to run a national drive to convince businesses about and then implement the concept of a documented economy. Any transaction without a proper receipt should be deemed illegal. Receipts should be issued by Government monitoring bodies perhaps by a separate team in FBR to businesses to eradicate the possibility of counterfeit receipts which are never accounted for. Some structural reforms as recommended in my previous write-ups including lower tax rates, improvements in the progressive structure of the tax system as well as widening the tax base would be required to ensure this is achieved.

This time, the backdrop of Peshawar Army School tragedy has made the nation more aware of the issue and it will be more receptive to such measures. However, the lawmakers will need to lead by example if they’re to gain the trust of the business community and ordinary tax-payers. If that is not the case and rather millions are declared as “Qarz-e-Hasna” to their children by top Government officials to avoid tax, the drive will be bound to fail like many before it.

The author is Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, chartered financial analyst, qualified accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk