AMIR VOWS NO EFFORT SPARED TO PROTECT HOMELAND – Reforms urged as income drops 60% – Minister of Social Affairs and Labour survives grilling

HH the Amir waving to MPs upon his entry to Abdullah Salem Hall
HH the Amir waving to MPs upon his entry to Abdullah Salem Hall

KUWAIT CITY, Oct 27: His Highness the Amir called Tuesday on officials state to seek alternative revenue sources and reduce public expenditure after state income dropped 60 percent due to a sharp slide in crude prices. Addressing Prliament at the beginning of its new term, Sheikh Sabah Al- Ahmad Al-Sabah urged citizens to understand the new measures. “The decline in global oil prices has caused state revenues to drop by around 60 percent while spending remained without any reduction leading to a huge deficit,” HH the Amir told lawmakers. He called for “speedy actions to adopt serious and fair measures to complete economic reforms … and reduce public expenditures.”

“Any delay would only increase the budget deficit and make the cost (of reforms) higher,” HH the Amir said. Oil prices have lost around 60 percent of their value since June 2014, hitting the coffers of energy-dependent countries like Kuwait. Oil income accounted for about 94 percent of Kuwait’s revenues during the past 16 years, when the country posted a budget surplus and piled up massive fiscal reserves of around $600 billion (543 billion euros). The reserves are invested mostly abroad by the country’s sovereign wealth fund. “No efforts will be spared for the protection of our dear homeland”, declared His Highness the Amir.

The Amir highlighted the economic and security problems currently facing Kuwait, affirming that Kuwait continues to enjoy peace, security, stability, wealth, freedom and coexistence “despite being amidst an ocean that is burning with the fires of civil wars, and sectarian and ethnic conflicts provoked by armed groups that spread anarchy, terror and destruction which lead to the death of many individuals and displacement of many others”.

He said, “The fact that the plague of terrorism has found its way to us to perpetrate its obnoxious crime of exploding Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque last Ramadan and killing and injuring large number of people, is really dangerous.

However, the unity among the Kuwaiti people represents an obstacle against the attempts of any individual or group that seeks to undermine the country’s security and national unity. “This hateful crime as well as the discovery of the terrorist cell and the cache of weapons and terrorist equipment by the alert national security authorities represent a warning alarm of danger due to which we must be more alert and vigilant, and ensure security and peace of the country and its people are our key concerns above any other priorities.

“Security, stability and sovereignty of the law and principles embodied in the Kuwaiti Constitution are the foundations and references based on which we must push forward the public life and ensure continuity of all services and facilities in all aspects of public life. Stemming from our keenness to protect our national unity, we should never allow the spread of strife, enmity and sectarian conflicts, and we should never exploit any tribal, ethnic and sectarian conflict. “

Do not generalize any crime committed by an individual without evidence. I urge the Kuwaiti people to be wary and eliminate the dangers that are threatening our security. We must commit to our national unity and participate in protecting the country’s security. We will spare no efforts to protect our national unity, strengthen the national security and increase its capabilities and competencies.

“Kuwait’s security is part and parcel of the Arab GCC security system. Any threat against the security of any of the GCC countries represents a threat to the security of Kuwait and other GCC states. Therefore, such threats must be foiled through our cooperation. This was apparent when Kuwait was invaded by Iraq in 1991. This was obvious when Saudi Arabia was recently faced with threat to its security, which prompted GCC states to participate in the ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ and airstrikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen which were led by His Majesty and the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz. “You may recall that I had earlier warned about the risks associated with the consumption rate in our society and the increasing rate of government-consumer spending, which are both useless and without returns. They were carried out at the expense of development of Kuwaiti people and the investment in them, as the Kuwaiti people represents the real asset of our country and is one of the basic pillars of the country’s stability, progress and development.” Meanwhile, the National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanim called on the people of Kuwait to unite further for eliminating any chances for terrorism to undermine Kuwait’s national security.

Al-Ghanim discussed issues related to the Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque bomb blast on June 26 and the discovery of a terrorist cell in Kuwait, affirming that the way the leadership handled the situations had succeeded in defusing tension in the country.

He commended His Highness the Amir for his immediate and spontaneous response to the terrorist attack on Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque, affirming that his visit to the scene of the attack was a “historical” move on his part. The Speaker also commended the Kuwaiti people’s reaction in denouncing all acts and attempts to spread fear and panic in the country, affirming that the Kuwaiti nation will emerge triumphant against terrorism. Regarding the National Assembly’s recent activities, he revealed that the Parliament approved 49 public laws particularly within the housing and audit domains. Indicating that, “The Parliament’s achievements could not have been realized without the guidance of the country’s leadership, Al-Ghanim praised the lawmakers for their cooperation with the Cabinet on various issues.” He revealed, “There are still some issues that need to be addressed due to which the Parliament will continue to monitor the Cabinet’s efforts to ensure the results are as planned. Change will come with patience and planning”. Calling on the executive and legislative authorities to work together for the sake of the people, Al-Ghanim urged the citizens to respect the rule of law. He affirmed that the concept of unity will enable Kuwait to overcome social, economic, political, and other such challenges in the future.

Furthermore, His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al- Hamad Al-Sabah also addressed the Parliament, affirming that the government will not tolerate any attempts aimed to undermine the security of Kuwait. He called for the implementation of a tightbelt policy to curb excessive spending. During his speech at the inauguration of the fourth session of the Parliament’s 14th legislative term, he said, “Our national unity represents a shield against anyone attempting to undermine the security of this society. Our vigilant security forces will deal with all loopholes in order to keep Kuwait and its people safe”. His Highness Sheikh Jaber revealed that the government, in its quest to fight and eliminate terrorism, has started activating a number of important laws such as the DNA law, installation of surveillance cameras and collection of unlicensed weapons, adding, “These laws will strengthen the security and stability of Kuwait”. He highlighted His Highness the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al- Jaber Al-Sabah’s calls to uphold the security of Kuwait. His Highness Sheikh Jaber affirmed that the government will spare no efforts to improve its security measures and will work on promoting national unity for dealing with the security challenges facing the country. He also affirmed the government’s determination to ensure development and prosperity, despite the numerous challenges facing the country particularly the low oil prices.

His Highness Sheikh Jaber revealed that the cooperation between the government and the Parliament in line with Article 50 of the Constitution has led to many achievements that benefited the country and the citizens. He said the government has realized the gravity of the low oil prices and the “negative impacts on our national economy as well as our ability to address financial burdens”, indicating that maintaining social prosperity require doubling of efforts coupled with reduced spending and proper investment of resources. His Highness Sheikh Jaber emphasized on His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah’s call to reduce spending without affecting the citizens’ standard of living, to diversify the sources of income and minimize dependence on oil. He affirmed that the government will continue to follow its tight-belt policy, protect public funds and fight corruption, highlighting the efforts exerted by Kuwait Anti-Corruption Authority. His Highness the Prime Minister called on all officials to submit their financial disclosures to the authority like how he did earlier, stressing that the process of reform requires collaboration of all citizens with the objective of achieving the country’s development. He said the government was targeting the development of human resources as the backbone of prosperity. “Caring for and empowering the youth represent a major element in the development plan”, he stressed, pointing out the launch of the national fund for small and medium-size enterprises. His Highness Sheikh Jaber indicated that the competitiveness of Kuwait has improved due to which the country has made large strides in its fight against money laundering and terrorism financing, all in line with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.

He said the decision taken by the Working Group on Tackling Financing of Terrorism to remove Kuwait’s name from its terrorism financing list can be considered as “a great civilized achievement”. Regarding the developmental projects, His Highness the Prime Minister explained, “Over 80 percent of the ventures have been implemented in the fiscal year 2014-2015. “The government recently opened Al- Razi Hospital with eight hospitals to be operated in the next five years. New transportation and housing projects are also being implemented. The education system of the country is being developed in cooperation with the World Bank. “Constructive cooperation between the government and the Parliament has contributed to the approval of many projects such as North Al-Zour Power Station, Abdali Solar Station, sewage water treatment station and waste recycling”. His Highness Sheikh Jaber went on to say, “Kuwait’s foreign policy will remain committed to non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and solving of conflicts in a peaceful manner with added emphasis on GCC countries’ security. “Kuwait is committed to good neighborliness and it supports freedom, justice, peace and human rights”. His Highness Sheikh Jaber said Kuwait is convicted about the fact that the security of all the Gulf Cooperation Council countries is integrated, and that the GCC member states share the responsibility of preserving the security and stability of the region. He commended the positive role played by Saudi Arabia in supporting just causes and maintaining peace and stability in the area. His Highness Sheikh Jaber explained, “Saudi Arabia is leading an Arab coalition that is aimed to protect the legitimacy of the Yemeni government in the wake of the coup d’Ètat carried out by the Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces against President Abad Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The objective of the coalition is to restore the legitimate leadership in Yemen and help the Yemeni people”.

The Parliament, during its opening session, unanimously elected MP Adel Al- Kharafi once again as the term’s secretary, and MP Abdullah Al-Tamimi as the observer. However, it decided to postpone the election of the heads of committees in order to first carry out deliberations and the interpellation submitted by MP Mohammed Tana Al-Enezi against Minister of Social Affairs and Labor and State Minister for Planning and Development Hind Al-Sabeeh. Both the MP and the minister did not hesitate to address the matter as the very first item on the agenda of the parliament’s fourth legislative term.

Al-Enezi started his interpellation by indicating that the minister is employing and protecting officials who are from the same political movement. He explained that the current head of the Public Authority for the Disabled was given the position, despite the sexual harassment and other cases filed against him. The latter in turn employed many expatriates in the authority to the extent that 90 percent of its employees are non- Kuwaitis. He insisted that he has not seen any signs of cooperation from minister Al- Sabeeh, even though the prime minister, in his statement, called for cooperation between the two authorities. Al-Enezi presented a video clip of the troubles and hardships that the guardians of the disabled individuals go through due to the negligence of the officials appointed by the minister. He stated that the Child Evaluation and Education Center as well as the State Audit Bureau have both reported numerous violations committed by the official, but nothing was done in this regard because he is protected by the minister.

The MP elaborated a number of violations and alleged scandals linked to the Public Authority for the Disabled, including the appointment of a medical clerk who used to be a painter as well as the appointment of an individual whose only task is to massage the head of the authority. He revealed that some employees have been placed in high positions even though they lack necessary qualifications, and they are receiving monthly payments of approximately KD 1,400 by listing themselves as members of numerous committees. He also revealed that these employees were discovered to belong to the same movement as that of the head of the authority and the minister. Al-Enezi also accused minister Al- Sabeeh of squandering the public funds by allowing employees to receive salaries without attending to their jobs. He cited the example of an employee who was absent for two years but was given the position of undersecretary.

It was later discovered that this particular individual is a family member of Al-Sabeeh. The MP listed more violations, scandals and acts of discrimination committed at the authorities under the management of minister Al-Sabeeh. Indicating that national unity is not a red line at the ministry, he revealed that the Kuwaiti employees continue to complain about the management and the policies, especially since non-Kuwaiti employees are receiving high salaries without holding necessary qualifications and barely doing anything in the ministry. In response, Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Hind Al-Sabeeh insisted that there are no evidences to back these accusations launched against her by MP Al- Enezi. She explained that his delivery of the matter violates the internal regulations of the assembly, as he used inappropriate terms that negatively impact the reputation of the head of the Public Authority for the Disabled.

The minister displayed a number of letters of recommendations from numerous bodies which prove that the official in question is capable and has a clean slate. The bodies that submitted letters of recommendation were the United Nations Development Program, Ministry of Education and Kuwait University. Minister Al-Sabeeh also presented international and local agreements that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor and all its affiliated authorities are withholding in an enforced manner. Regarding the accusation of illegal employment, she explained that the individual the MP is referring to was a consultant with no expertise in the field in which he was consulting. He is an expert in Physical Education and was employed as a consultant with the approval of the Civil Service Commission, as he is specialized in physical education and had recommended a developmental program of using physical education to improve the performance of the disabled people and increase their chances in the job market. Concerning the alleged squandering of public funds in most of the authorities under her control, the minister demanded the MP to present any form of documentation to prove his claim, as the minister believes the MP’s claim as well as all of his grilling points lack truth. In response, MP Mohammed Al-Enezi indicated his surprise to see the minister answer the grilling points by reading from a piece of paper, which made him believe that her responses are rehearsed. “If a person is innocent, rehearsal is not needed”, he insisted. Stressing on the corruption in the ministry, he disclosed that there are numerous cases where individuals without medical evidences of disability were classified as disabled and therefore received the financial allowance allocated for the disabled. He said, “Despite all of these violations, the minister insists that the head of the authority is honorable and clean. She has also disregarded the sexual harassment case filed against him”. The MP then turned to the assembly and stated that he wished the minister would answer without reading from a piece of paper which was prepared by her subordinate whose only job at the ministry is to check Twitter feeds. He stressed that his interpellation is only aimed at reform and it does not have any underlying agenda for personal gain. The minister responded by indicating the lack of regulations that prohibit her from reading her responses from a paper, adding that it is unlawful to accuse people without evidence.

At the end of grilling, MP Al-Enezi presented a number of recommendations, demanding solution within three months to the violations listed in his interpellation paper. He also requested for the formation of a parliamentary committee to investigate the violations. The Parliament accepted the recommendations, agreed to verify the violations mentioned in the interpellation and take necessary action in that regard. The Speaker then announced the end of the grilling and that the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor has been given another chance to continue her job.

By Abubakar A. Ibrahim and Ahmad Al-Naqeeb Arab Times Staff and Agencies

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