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‘Kuwait democracy has long way to go’ ‘Citizens looking for quality services but not distribution of cash’

Safa Al-Hashem officially submitted her resignation from the Parliament on Sunday, April 4, 2014. This interview was conducted prior to that resignation. According to the parliament’s charter, Al-Hashim has ten days to withdraw her resignation if she desires to do so. — Editor

EXPECTING a country to be 100 percent corruption-free is Utopian. We can tolerate some corruption as the price of real development, says MP Safa Al Hashem. However, she cannot take it lying down when she sees corruption pushing the country backwards. In this interview she expresses her anger at the impediments hurting Kuwait’s progress and the encroachment of extremist ideologies into Kuwait’s political system. She is not shy to blame top-level government executives and politicians as agents of Muslim Brotherhood, and calls the organization a venomous serpent, whose head must be cut off for the good of the region.


Question: Are you satisfied with the management of the country by the current government?
Answer: As you know, I have been very rebellious towards the attitude and how our government is handling major issues like housing, education and health. The government has been very reluctant to address very important issues. I am not happy with the performance of the seven consecutive terms of this government since 2011 when Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah came over as a prime minister. I am not keen of the way he addresses issues and major hurdles and crises which we should be facing to begin with. We are cash-rich country and cash-rich market with a lot of potentials and at the end of the day Kuwait has been the pioneer in addressing issues and coming out with progressive plans, I have even seen that. You may be asking me, am I optimistic, yes I have always been optimistic but not with the current prime minister.
 

Q: You always talk about widespread corruption and fraud in the government institutions, can you pinpoint these corruptions and how to eliminate them?
A: There are many tools through which corruption can be eliminated. I am not saying we are Utopia but at the end of the day, one can accept say 30 percent of corruption and 70 percent of progress or development. There is no problem with some level of corruption, but we must equally see some level of development to overshadow this corruption and have some level of development in our major project and sustainable energy we have been hearing about. For instance we the lawmakers have enacted good and important laws but the government has failed to issue executive instruments to implement these laws effectively.
Kuwaiti people are looking for quality services from the government but not to be distributed with cash. They need extra super services in the government institutions but I am not seeing this happening from this government.
 

Q: The issue of stateless people or Bedouns has been so long in this country without solution and has been damaging Kuwait’s image internationally, in what way do you see this problem being solved.
A: For me, I find it very distasteful to call some groups in this country as stateless or Bedouns. Actually, it is the Kuwaiti government that created this term and calling them stateless people. Now it has created some agencies to look into their matter and about 35 percent of them have been acknowledged to be registered in 1965 population statistic. The question is why do we now have about 150,000 people as stateless and why still dealing with this issue for this long time?
I resent the fact that this people are not provided with their social rights, I resent the fact that this people are deprived of having decent jobs or proper medical care and education. How can I be proud of the country that is generous, granting donations and charities to countries and people of other parts of the world, but cannot provide the so-called stateless people their basic and social rights.
I equally dislike how Bedouns take to the streets to stage demonstrations in demand for their rights, but the question is do they have another option? We did not give them any job, we did not give them education nor health care. So if the government want to have solution to this issue, then the 35 per cent who have been acknowledged as being part of the population since 1965 should be granted citizenship. They are some bedouns who have submitted their original passports and they must be investigated and if they don’t have any criminal record, they can also be granted a five-year residency or grant them the immigration right.
 

Q: You seemed to be so vocal against Muslim Brotherhood group in this country. Would you please tell who is this group and to what extent they pose a threat to the security and stability of this country and other GCC countries?
A: Yes, because great countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirate and Bahrain, God bless their rulers has declared Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group. I have said it and I will keep on saying that Kuwait has been the hub or safe haven for all Muslim Brotherhood movements in the region and even in the north African countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco but the Moroccan King was able to dismantle this group. According to recent report, Kuwait has been the hub for funding this group and that was proved in the UAE which published list of names of its leaders and “murshids’ who are working right here in Kuwait for the benefit of the group. This is the message I am sending to the Prime Minister, but unfortunately the so called Murshid, the guide of the Muslim Brother is working in the Office of the Prime Minister as prime minister’s advisor, how can I accept that. This message has been sent to him several times but unfortunately he has not been paying heed to it and it would be too late by the time the message come from other countries to tell him about the danger of this person. United Arab Emirates declared this man as Brotherhood murshid who had been  sending money to Brotherhood members during the trial of former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi.
 

Q: Don’t you think that there is some kind of exaggeration in describing Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group?
A: Not at all, Muslim Brotherhood  has become a venomous snake in the Gulf region and if its head is not cut off there will be no peace in this region. Brotherhood movement has been suppressed for more than 80 years in Egypt but suddenly appeared actively during Morsi’s regime and that was why Egyptian people woke up to remove this Brotherhood regime which they considered terrorist which sets bombs to kill innocent people.
 

Q: Why do you support, one-man-one-vote system?
A: I am one of the strong supporters and huge advocate of one man-one vote system because its results is better than the old system. It has achieved positive result in allowing all eligible voters regardless of their tribal or sectarian affiliation to exercise their franchise. I believe that the one vote system should also be adopted in the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Municipality Council, sports clubs and cooperative societies. Meanwhile, there is some sense in the demand for amendment to the current electoral system to have more than five constituencies because of the changes in Kuwait demography, the population has increased drastically especially in the fifth constituency, so it will be better to have 10 constituencies and one vote system.
 

Q: As the only woman parliamentarian in the current parliament, do you feel women are disappointed, and is this an indication of setback in Kuwait’s democratic process in terms of women political participation?
A: First of all, I must say that in the parliament I represent the interest of all Kuwait people of both genders – men and women. At the same time, having only one woman in the parliament indicates that Kuwait democracy still has long way to go in that  Kuwait people expect that woman MP should have the same competency and power like her male counterpart. For me I think women have proved to be stronger and more competent than men and even more aggressive than them. Here I am talking on personal experience, I have been active with many issues, I have been very proactive and taken initiative towards many issues which I didn’t see any of my male counterpart do. So the role of women will continue to be stronger than that of men.
 

Q: Do you agree that quota system be adopted to give women their fair share of seats in the parliament, especially as women constitute more than half of Kuwait population?
A: No, I don’t accept this system because every MP be it male or female don’t represent any particular sex, they represent all men and women of Kuwait society, so quota system make no sense.
 

Q: In both of the previous elections who gave you more votes, it is men or women?
A: Most of my votes were from women, I got 73 percent of women vote from the total votes I secured for the parliament seat.
 

Q: This means they are expecting you to propose bills in their favor or interest, so are you working to ensure this happenes?
A: Our constitution is very clear and to includes road map for decency and pride for all Kuwaiti people, but unfortunately, it is the government that is prejudiced to segregate men and women on various issues. In my view the government has not been fair to women because for example when it arranged for granting housing loans for the citizens, it ignored woman and granted KD70,000 to man and nothing for woman until we came in the 2011 parliament and granted KD45,000 housing loans for woman.
 

Q: There are very serious pending issues that affect citizens like housing care and the parliament is working hard  towards resolving this crisis. In your opinion why has the housing issue become a crisis for this country and what is the solution?
A: The government is today using housing care issue as its playing cards. The government has declared 2.8 percent lands as non-oil land which have been released for building housing units under a project called “Amaal” or hope, but unfortunately this turns to be nightmares. This is because the current government came and demolished this durable project which was set up by the previous Housing Affairs Minister Salem Al-Otheina. The question we are asking is why did the government suspend this project, and what did it see wrong with it? No response from the government as to why did it gave up on this project and the was why I grilled the Prime Minister, Sheikh Jabber Al-Mubarak last time.
 

Q: Can the private sector contribute in solving the housing crisis?
A: Yes it can, and the government can hire any Chinese-based company and give them a green light to establish housing units. For example in Oman, Korean and Chinese joint companies signed contract to build 35,000 housing units and this also happened in other countries. But here in Kuwait Al-Shadadiya University project has been burned down five times due to negligence. Also we have Jabir Stadium project which is completed for long time but there is no single football match or tournament played on it due to errors in the project. So the question is why should the government be failing to implement its mega projects like these ones? Why up till now the government has failed to build residential cities? What does the country lack? The country has the money and all capabilities, but the problem is the failure of the government in its policies and management of the country. Is it the problem between the executive and the legislative authorities or it is the great wall of China that the prime minister is building between the two authorities?
 

Q: On educational issue, do you think the current educational standard in Kuwait can meet the job requirements or labour market?
A: We used to have a high standard educational system. I am one of the graduates from the government schools. I graduated from Kuwait University and from that we used to have a brilliant curriculum, brilliant set of teachers that were properly and well established. But now where did we go wrong? I think this question goes to the government. Do we have good set of educational laws, the answer is yes, but there is no proper implementation of these laws. Where did we go wrong in our national unity, where is the patriotism, why did we lose it and why all of a sudden we talk about Shiite or Sunni, Bedouin or Urban citizens? all these things hurt our education which starts within the family and reflect positively or negatively in our educational system.
 

Q: Do you think the current educational curriculum should be changed or reformed?
A: We need to change our social perspective, of how we approach our education. Do we still need in this our lifetime the kind of spoon-feeding we do to our children. And another question is why has the private educational system succeeded whereas there is total failure in the government educational system? What did they do right that the government didn’t do? Why should the government expect the students to work towards achieving something, while we still have spoon-feeding tactics in our schools?
 

Q: Another problem facing the citizens of this country is unemployment as there are about 26,000 of them in the job-seeking list and the government is encouraging citizens to work in the private sector as part of its effort to address the unemployment problem. Is this a proper way of addressing this crisis?
A: The government is not encouraging anybody to work in the private sector, even it is not encouraging itself to work properly. The government actually encourage citizens to stay at home by giving them unemployed allowance, and that is totally unacceptable.
 

Q: Some of the citizens actually went to work in the private sector but they were later laid off for a certain reason. What should the government do to let citizens accept to work in private sector?
A: The solution is not the government hiring citizens or rehiring them in the government sector, because we already have an excess burden on the body of this country. The wage or the salary scale itself is not fair as we have 89 percent of our national manpower working in the government while the rest goes to the private sector, which is totally unfair. We need to encourage our youths, we need to upgrade the educational outputs in schools, colleges and universities to enable citizens have skills to work in the private sector, to have their own small and medium enterprises, to work as stand-alone entities. This dependency is killing the country’s system. We need them to be independent, but the government doesn’t encourage that. In the previous parliament, I have worked extensively to get KD1 billion fund to establish Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), so where is this fund and why is it still not activated? The government has appointed CEO for it but without issuing executive instruments for it to get it operative and implemented on the ground. So here we understand that the government lags behind in each and all aspect of development process.
 

Q: The parliament has passed a law to buy citizens interests loans through defaulters and family fund. Can you tell us how the government fell into this problem?
A: You cannot tell a citizen to go and take a loan from the bank, but where was the monitoring of the Central Bank of Kuwait when the banks were giving loans to citizens with higher interest rates. It has always been declared that 4 percent is the the maximum that one gets in commercial law, so why was that raised from 9 to 10 percent. When we started investigating this matter the banks suddenly gave us an unpleasant note that we should wait and that we should not investigate in such financial matters. This is because the central bank and the government itself have failed to offer proper monitoring from 2002 till 2008 in granting loans to over 47,000 citizens and these banks have exceeded the interest rate threshold of above the 4 percent which created this mess.

biography

Safa’ Al-Hashem was born in 1964 and holds a Masters in business administration. She worked in the Ministry of Higher Education in 1994 then was board chairperson of Advantage Company, and was a member in the 2012 annulled parliament.

In the July 2013 election, she won fifth place in the 3rd Constituency with 2036. She is one of the two women who have won seats in this parliament.

In the current parliament, Al-Hashem has been elected member of the Economic and Financial Committee. She contested for the post of National Assembly Observer but  withdrew from the race to pave way for MP Saud Al-Huraiji to be elected for the post.

In the previous parliament, Al-Hashem took the position of Parliament Observer, with 37 votes. She also became the Rapporteur of the Economic and Financial Affairs Committee and member of the Response to the Amiri Address and Foreign Affair committees.

By Abubakar A. Ibrahim
Arab Times Staff

 


By: Safa Al-Hashem

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