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Violation of the law cannot be part of freedom or liberty Balance rights of workers with those of employers

“THE Private Sector Labor Law must be amended to protect the interests of both the workers and employers, taking into consideration the social and economic changes in Kuwait,” says MP Yaqoub Al-Sanei.
In a recent interview with the Arab Times, the lawmaker stressed the need to guarantee balance in terms of protecting the rights of the employees and employers. He believes this balance will have a positive impact on domestic product in general.
Following is the full interview:
Question: Recently, you presented a bill to amend the Private Sector Labor Law wherein you proposed reducing certain employee privileges. For instance in Article 53, you reduced the indemnity from full payment to two-thirds if a worker completes 10 years in service. In Article 69, you reduced sick leave from 15 to 10 days with full pay and from 30 to 10 days without pay. In Article 30, you reduced the annual leave from 30 to 15 days for the first year of work. What is the aim behind this amendment which, obviously, will not be accepted by employees?
Answer: As lawmakers, we work to serve the general interests of both the employees and employers in order to protect their rights in terms of productivity, work, wages and other factors. The Labor Law stipulates a minimum wage but in the contract between the two parties, they are given freedom of choice. In this case, a worker has the right to reject this law and he can receive privileges or benefits more than what is stipulated in the law. There is nothing that prevents an employee from putting his own conditions in the contract and this is what I said in the explanatory note of my proposal.
I explained that due to the social and economic changes in Kuwait, the law must be amended to ensure balance when it comes to protecting rights of the workers and employers. This balance will have positive effects on the domestic product in general.
Furthermore, the Arab and international communities have witnessed many developments which cannot be ignored; considering Kuwait is one of the countries that recruit foreign workers. The existing law must be amended to cope with the recent developments, particularly since the law took effect more than four years ago.
At the outset, some people may think that my proposal is aimed at reducing privileges granted to workers but this is not true. Actually, the bill merely sets out minimum rights. By the way, the implementation is not mandatory because there might be other terms in the contract between the employer and the employee. The door is open for negotiations for both parties to reach a common ground.
Q: You are a strong critic of former opposition lawmakers. You even filed lawsuits against Musallam Al-Barrak and other opposition activists for demonstrating at Erada Square on Oct 15, 2012 when they challenged the constitutional powers of His Highness the Amir and delivered speeches to mobilize the people. As a lawyer, was it not an attempt to suppress freedom of expression, opinion and gathering guaranteed by the law?
A: First of all, there is a difference between freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. No matter what the circumstances are, no one is allowed to violate the law under the guise of exercising one’s freedom. For example, is it logical for someone to steal and then claim he is merely exercising his freedom even if the act is a violation of the law? Freedom must be exercised within the legal framework and we encourage or support this.
Again, there are laws that criminalize certain activities or expressions, so why the so-called majority opposition did not amend these laws when they were inside the Parliament if they believe the laws contravene freedom of opinion and expression? Let me reiterate that no one is against the right to express one’s views, but instigating chaos is unacceptable while the personality of HH the Amir is the symbol of the State so it should be protected. In fact, freedom of expression is guaranteed by the law but it should be done within the legal framework to ensure the interests of the State are not harmed. Such acts must not lead to prejudice or attack on securitymen.
I want to add that even civilized countries, which have an established democracy, call for respect of the law and its implementation. Therefore, no one has the right to violate the law by claiming he is merely exercising his freedom.
Q: The opposition also challenged the emergency decree issued by the Amir on the one-man-one-vote system. What is your opinion in this regard?
A: The question is: Does the head of State (the Amir) has power to issue such a decree or not? The Constitution grants him that power, but the opposition claimed otherwise. To avoid ending up in the jungle, we suggested resorting to the Constitutional Court – a step we usually take whenever we have differences in the interpretation of the Constitution. We have to resort to a neutral body rather than using the law of the jungle.
Let us assume that the head of State has no power to issue an emergency decree, the Constitutional Court will take the decision. At the time, we appealed to everyone to let the law prevail in order to have stability. In case the Constitutional Court ruled that the head of State – the Amir – has no right or power to issue such a decree, we must respect the verdict and we should do the same if the court ruled on the constitutionality of the decree.
Q: On the K-Dow Chemical issue, you and your colleagues in the previous Parliament – Nasser Al-Merri and Sadoun Hammad Al-Otaibi – submitted a grilling request against the then Oil Minister, Hani Hussein, although the interpellation was cancelled when the minister resigned two days before the scheduled debate on the request. You and your colleagues wanted to question the minister on the Petrochemical Industries Company (PIC) settlement with Dow Chemical to pay around $2.2 billion as penalty for scrapping the joint venture. You also said there are “financial and administrative irregularities” in the canceled contract and the Oil Minister was negligent in terms of dealing with the crisis and revealing the facts; not to mention failure to hold accountable those behind the anomalies.
Now the Parliament formed a committee, in which you are a member, to investigate this matter. At what stage is the investigation process at this point in time? What are the violations in the cancellation? Do you think Kuwait can still retrieve this huge money or hold accountable those behind the cancellation of the deal?
A: This is a complicated issue as it involves many parties. It is an example of financial and administrative corruption in Kuwait; hence, the need for lawmakers to win or prevail. I was one of those who submitted an interpellation request against the former oil minister on many violations in the Dow deal, the most serious of which is the hasty settling of penalty without legal basis to pay such a huge compensation.
Some legal mistakes were also found in the contract such as the big ceiling of compensation – 33 percent, even if there was no reason for PIC to approve such penalty that cost the State a lot. The big disaster was that they rushed in paying the penalty in the absence of the investigative committee in the annulled Parliament. They even wrote a promissory letter stating the support being given to K-Dow Chemical Company should not be lifted. By taking this step, the concerned officials have violated the law and overstepped their boundaries.
This issue had caused tension and reservations among some lawmakers. We are still investigating and following up this matter. We have asked the Prime Minister to refer all those involved to the Public Prosecution.
On whether there is hope to retrieve such a huge amount, I believe this is possible if there are good intentions on the part of the government. Unfortunately, there is no genuine intent to follow up this issue and get the money back.
Now there is a fear that in case support is not given to Dow, many other lawsuits will be filed and the State may incur more losses as a result of resorting to the international commission of inquiry to handle the case.
Q: You presented the Electronic Transactions Bill on Aug 20, 2013. What is the aim behind this bill?
A: Kuwait is a State of institutions and democracy. It cannot work without issuance of legislation. If a decision is taken for Kuwait to implement the e-government system, it will definitely clash with laws which prevent this from happening. I thought of presenting the bill for all State institutions to process transactions electronically. Therefore, this law will address many issues which prevent some institutions from using electronic documentations. Thank God, we succeeded. After the passage of Electronic Conference Law, the Electronic Transaction Law was also passed.
Q: You also presented a proposal on the memorization of the Holy Quran to pave the way for inmates to reduce their prison terms. You also suggested conducting a workshop in this regard and the points system should be adopted as per the parts of the Quran they have memorized. You called for the formation of a committee consisting of scholars from the Ministry of Awqaf to work in cooperation with the Interior Ministry. Why did you present such proposals? Did the government accept them?
A: In the past, laws were modified to arrest an offender and inflict physical pain on him. Now, there are legislative developments which allow an offender to be part of mainstream society again and contribute to the growth of the country. But before he could do so, he must undergo rehabilitation and training programs.
This can be done by allowing the prisoner to memorize the Quran if he is a Muslim or read other holy books if he is a non-Muslim so that he disciplines himself. This will also boost his confidence and prove he has no intention to repeat the crime. The prisoner will also undergo a workshop for the concerned authority to evaluate if he is keen on getting out of jail to work rather than remaining there and become a liability throughout his life. The Interior Ministry is working towards the implementation of this proposal soon.
Q: You also recommended the establishment of an office in every ministry and public authority to ease the processing of transactions for the disabled or people with special needs and the elderly. What is the main purpose of this proposal?
A: Undoubtedly, Kuwait is one of the best countries in the Middle East when it comes to taking care of people with special needs and elderly. This proposal is aimed at ensuring the handicapped and elderly become useful members of the society, instead of just depending on others. Certain facilities must be provided so the handicapped and the elderly can process transactions on their own.
 Q: You and some of your colleagues have been so vocal against the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait. Who are the members of this group? Are they considered threats to national security?
A: The Muslim Brotherhood has two wings – the radicals and the moderates. We have always been afraid of the radicals as they are bent on eliminating authorities and toppling the democratic regime in Kuwait.
As for the moderate wing, we have not encountered any problem with them. We are usually worried about the radicals who do not hesitate in using force, carrying out violent acts and breaking the laws to achieve their goals. We have repeatedly warned about the group’s activities in and outside the country since it operates internationally.
Q: We are now about to complete the current legislative round but the government’s development plans which were presented in 2009 and 2013 are yet to be implemented. As a lawmaker, what are you doing to convince the government to implement the plans approved by both authorities?
A: The Parliament always makes the move before the government. It leads initiatives instead of the government. This might be unsound or incorrect, but it is the truth. For instance, we called for a special session to discuss ways to diversify sources of national income in a bid to wean Kuwait from total dependence on oil. We also talked about finding alternative energy rather than oil.
In response to the Parliament’s request, the government drafted a strategic plan and presented its view on the issue. However, we found out that the strategic plan is flawed, so I presented recommendations to help the government diversify sources of income.
On the development plan, we don’t want the government to rush in presenting its draft development plan without correct and solid ground from which it could take off in order to avoid constant criticisms by the Parliament. The government needs enough time to prepare this plan.
 

biography
MP Yaqoub Al-Sanei was born in 1976 and holds a PhD in Constitutional Law. He is a lawyer by profession, member of the Arab Bar Union, Chairman of Human Rights Committee in Kuwait Bar Association, member of the Public Fund Protection Society, and December 2012 annulled Parliament. In the July 2013 elections, he won eighth place in the Third Constituency with 1,460 votes. In the December 2012 Parliament, Al-Sanei joined the Legal and Legislative Committee and he was elected as secretary of Kuwait Parliamentary Division Committee.

In the current Parliament, he is a member of the Legal and Legislative Committee. He was elected as National Assembly Secretary after receiving equal number of votes with his rival MP Hussein Quwaian Al-Mutairi — 30 votes each. He also serves as Secretary-General of the Constitutional Unit Bloc which operates outside the Parliament.

By Abubakar A. Ibarahim
Arab Times Staff


By: Yaqoub Al-Sanei

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