Last week, Afghan Local TV 1 reported that over US$175 million was spent on marriages in Kabul during the initial nine months of 1390 (2010-2011). This indicates that almost half of the Afghan total exports in 1390 which according to Afghan Central Statistics Organisation amounted US$388 million was spent over a night. Is it really worth it or there is another terrorism on the way?
Those with economic knowledge would agree that demand (ability and willingness to buy) for goods and services are initially influenced by income and price (economic factors) respectively. Non-economic factors such as preference, fashion, future expectations and others would be the subsequent demand determinants.
The story in Afghanistan is the opposite. Paying high cost of marriages is not influenced by higher income of families or the lower prices of marriages, but they are rather affected by fashion and unhealthy competition of families in Afghanistan. This competition did exist in the past, but not to the extent it is practiced now. Initially encouraged by opium economy and corruption, this culture is now unfortunately institutionalised and its risks can be worse than terrorism.
According to TV 1, there are around 50 wedding halls in Kabul which hosted over 16,000 parties last year. The food cost of the wedding ceremonies in these halls stood at almost US$400,000 per night, US$11.81 million per month and US$106.3 million over nine months in 1390 (2010-2011). The bride's gold cost alone was over US$131,000 per night, over US$3.93 million per month and over US$35.4 million over nine months in 1390. Prof. Sayed Masoud, from Kabul University said to TV 1 that this amount could build an electricity dam.
Although available statistics of CIA World Factbook suggest that the unemployment and poverty rates in Afghanistan are 35% and 36% (2008 estimates) respectively, Afghan families feel obliged to burden the heavy cost of the weddings and quite often they are highly indebted to celebrate their parties.
Despite these alarming percentages, the cost of marriages had a steep growth rate during the last decade. TV 1 research adds that the marriage cost in Kabul wedding halls are between US$2,000 and US$252,000. The report further adds that the cost of food alone for wedding ceremonies of some businessmen and government officials' sons has reached US$120,000. These bold figures indicate that these businessmen and government officials are either deeply corrupted or smuggling and opium economy finance their costs.
The high cost and the unfavourable culture are not the only concern. The fiscal system and the informal economy which according to Afghan Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs constitutes over 90% of the Afghan economy have also further exacerbated the situation. For instance, an automated fiscal system based on which the tax revenues are automatically deposited into bank accounts is acking. Cash transactions in the informal sector favour the wedding halls owners to escape tax. Zubair Ahmad, the head of medium tax payers in Ministry of Finance told TV 1 that these owners in Kabul hide their food menu prices as well as the exact number of wedding guests they accommodate.
Afghanistan is a country which depended on foreign assistance during last century. Currently, over 75% of operating budget and the whole development budget are financed by aid from outside. If attention is not granted to the informal economy and the taxing system, the country not only remains an economically dependent, but also escaping tax will ignite the social inequality which will in turn affect the social order and political stability.
These costs represent a mafia culture which will inevitably lead to unpleasant consequences. Mahmood Saikal, the former Afghan State Deputy Minister raised concern in this regard and wrote on his facebook page: "I see the consumer economy of my country more dangerous than that of terrorism. I condemn those officials that despite warnings by our scholars and existence of possible solutions, have deliberately developed it and have not taken any small steps to prevent it. I hope enhancing the production capability and limiting the consumer economy and the culture of dependency are the main agendas of competing parties during the 2014 election."
Sayed Yousuf Halim, Deputy Minister of Justice also raised his concern during an interview with TV 1. He said: "this is the responsibility of the government to prevent these high costs... The number of invitees from both sides of groom and bride must not exceed 500 in wedding ceremonies and 300 in engagement parties," added Mr. Halim.
Although the Afghan Government has enacted the marriage law, it seems that it has not been very serious in its practice and implementation. If the government does not take serious measures in this regard, not only the mafia culture would lead to growing social problems, its economic and political consequences as discussed earlier may also be regretted.