THE question that pops into the mind of every Kuwaiti during talks on reducing expenditures is: How many people in this country live below the poverty line for efforts to remedy the national deficit or reduce subsidies to be considered hindrances to development?
Is this the first time that the oil price went down, is it a recurring phenomenon or is there a possibility that it will become permanent? Do experts need to always consider the possibility that the oil price decline will be permanent, especially in a country where 90 percent of its revenues come from oil which is governed by the supply and demand curve, as well as the political interests of countries?
Throughout the past years, we and others have repeatedly warned about the risks of totally depending on oil as a source of national income and the lack of initiative to look for alternatives. It has been said several times that continuously depending on this product could lead to disaster, particularly in matters related to foodstuff, electricity, water and fuel subsidies. Who is benefiting/losing from all these?
For instance, the State spends about KD3 billion annually on electricity. According to most experts, this expenditure is expected to reach KD 9 billion by 2030; whereas the individual wastage rate will be very high due to lack of self-restraint or deterrent.
Previous awareness campaigns on judicious consumption of water and electricity proved futile because they touched the pockets of citizens – both those with limited income and the rich, considering the water and electricity consumption of a wealthy individual in his palace or huge house is triple that of an ordinary citizen.
Above all, it is unfortunate that most of those benefitting from subsidies are the ones exploiting the limited income earners whenever the issue of lifting subsidies on services and fuel derivatives comes up.
Undoubtedly, there are many ways to prevent wastage; among them is to educate the citizens. In fact, it should end completely through a set of measures and this is the task of the Parliament in its special session, which will take place soon to discuss the economic situation of the country.
From now on, we will certainly hear many parliamentary comments on protecting the limited income earners and finding a way to resolve the crisis; such that you will think it concerns the Martians, not Kuwaitis.
Very few parliamentarians will talk about serious and responsible measures to save Kuwait from the tunnel of ongoing economic crisis. But before all that, the parliamentarians need to review laws concerning ‘wastage of revenue’, which were endorsed in the past for electoral gains.
It should be done in a comprehensive economic basket; starting with lifting subsidies, reduction of unnecessary expenditures in ministries and establishments, and not to stop short of serious plans on diversification of income sources.
All these aim to ensure that oil does not continue to be the only lifeline. It is as if we are in a country which cannot wean itself off total dependence on oil, because we have not reached the age of economic maturity.
Therefore, let go of the people with limited income as they have become a flame which fades whenever weak justifications are thrown at them. Look for a radical solution to the recurring crisis. It seems we forget to take this step whenever the oil price increases and remember it when the price drops.
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times