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Minister fields road-rage grill - No ‘motion’

KUWAIT CITY, Feb 4: The interpellation of Minister of Public Works, Electricity and Water Abdulaziz Al- Ibrahim on Tuesday ended with a number of recommendations from MPs, none of whom submitted a noconfidence motion against him.

Although the minister originally planned to request the postponement of the interpellation submitted by MP Adel Al-Kharafi, he ascended on the podium and faced the grilling. Al-Kharafi started by respectfully apologizing in advance for anything he will say that might be deemed offensive to the minister, affirming the minister comes from a respectful family.

After the preliminaries, the lawmaker proceeded by pointing out that the minister is politically responsible for the roads in Kuwait. He asked the minister who will pay for the damages caused by asphalt fragments that hit a number of vehicles recently; disclosing he has a list of employees in the Road Operations Department at the ministry appointed to their posts through ‘wasta’ (influence).

The lawmaker asserted the Ministry of Public Works was, once upon a time, a functioning and well-performing institution. He argued the minister will know what went wrong if he communicates with his undersecretary. He claimed the minister is giving his undersecretary the silent treatment due to the disagreement they had earlier, describing the minister’s behavior as ‘childish’. Reminding the Assembly about the previous press statements of the minister, Al- Kharafi quoted the latter as saying, “No one has asked me to supply power to the people. I have collected electricity and water dues.” Addressing the minister, Al-Kharafi stressed, “It is your obligation to supply power to the people and the collection of payments falls within your responsibilities.” He also pointed out that despite the minister’s statement, the State Audit Bureau report mentioned that the minister’s policy of not collecting payments resulted in accumulation of debts. He asked the minister for the reasons behind the non-collection of payments from large corporations and industries, while focusing on poor citizens. Al-Kharafi also accused the minister of not working towards development; indicating that within the first month of his tenure, he ordered the closure of Al- Ghazali Road due to severe traffic.

This has prompted a citizen to file a case against the minister. He added the minister once issued an invoice to KNPC and lowered the dues by 50 percent, settling on KD 17 million. KNPC then stated that it will not pay more than KD 5 million, and the minister easily approved and accepted the payment. The MP also mentioned the ministry’s inability to control the flooding in the recent past, noting that he submitted numerous queries in this regard and demanded for immediate answers. He said the minister caused the delay in the implementation of major projects and violations in others, citing as examples the Nuwaiseeb Road and Al-Zour plant projects. Before concluding, Al-Kharafi revealed the minister does not even answer any of the queries submitted by the Parliament or State Audit Bureau. He alleged the minister is oblivious to matters concerning his ministry and he is not capable of taking responsibility. The lawmaker presented a video clip showing that the minister is unaware of anything in the ministry and all he does is sign tenders. Meanwhile, the minister said the interpellation is unconstitutional; because the grilling covers two concerned ministries when the lawmaker is supposed to grill only one at a time. He stressed that he agreed to face the grilling even if it is unconstitutional. National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanim then informed the minister that his statement is irrelevant at the moment as the interpellation was already convened.

At first, the minister tackled the flooding incident saying the entire nation was warned about the heavy rains and the Ministry of Public Works officials exerted tremendous efforts to prepare for the storm, in coordination with its interior and defense counterparts. He explained the maximum capacity of the drainage system is 22 to 24 mm/h, while the rainstorm was calculated at 30 to 66 mm/h; hence, it was basically impossible to prevent the floods. He pointed out that during strong storms in the United States and the United Kingdom; people are usually forced to stay indoors, although both countries have a more sophisticated drainage system than Kuwait. About the scattered asphalt fragments on the streets, the minister said that upon receiving information regarding the incident; a team was formed to evaluate the mixture of asphalt, followed by the remixing of asphalt which was immediately tested on the roads in Al-Nuzha and parts of the Sixth Ring Road. He confirmed the test yielded positive results and the damaged roads will be repaired soon.

On his alleged disagreement with the undersecretary, Al-Ibrahim said the ‘silent treatment’ accusation is incorrect and misleading. He affirmed he met the undersecretary recently to discuss the worsening traffic problem. On the closure of Al-Ghazali Road, the minister explained the road was closed to pave the way for the demolition work in order to add a new lane; while he denied the alleged violations in the Al-Zour plant project. He stressed all the procedures taken in this regard are in line with the law. Furthermore, the minister wondered from where Al-Kharafi got the information that he approved the payment of KD 5 million instead of KD 17 million. He presented a document from the Central Bank of Kuwait to prove that KD 17 million was collected. He added the collection of payments within a short period is unprecedented, disclosing the amount collected as of Jan 19 totaled KD 356 million. The minister went on to say that he responded to 84 out of 102 queries submitted to him and 61 of which came from Al-Kharafi.

After hearing the interpellation, the MPs voiced their opinions. Some argued against the interpellation as most of the grilling points are technical issues which must be discussed with technical officials from the Ministry of Public Works. They also confirmed that Al-Ibrahim is the most transparent minister and the most cooperative in terms of addressing the housing issue. Others supported the interpellation, accusing the minister of making excuses when he stood on the grilling podium. They argued the problem could have been easily avoided, but private companies specialized in road works revealed that ‘Bitumen’ - a substance used in road mixtures - is very expensive, so it is mixed with water to cut costs at the expense of quality. They also presented a number of recommendations to the minister, hoping he will implement them immediately. None of the MPs submitted a no-confidence motion against the minister. In addition, the Assembly tackled requests to lift the parliamentary immunity of MPs Safa Al-Hashem, Abdulhamid Dashti and Saadoun Hammaad due to cases filed against them. The Assembly voted in favor of the request to lift the immunity of Al-Hashem, but rejected the others.

By: Ahmed Al-Naqeeb Arab Times Staff

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