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KUWAIT CITY, Dec 21: The National Assembly on Wednesday approved the proposal to amend the Public Authority for Housing Welfare Law in its first reading with 48 votes in favor and one against. The bill mandates the authority to establish shareholding companies that will implement housing projects in partnership with private and huge international companies. Minister of State for National Assembly, Housing and Urban Development Affairs Ammar Al-Ajmi affirmed this bill is the fruit of cooperation between the government and the parliamentary Housing Affairs Committee to combat real estate monopoly and stop the transformation of private houses into investment buildings. During the discussion of the proposal, MP Abdullah Al-Mudaf – one of the proponents of the bill – explained that it is aimed at dismantling the real estate ‘mafia’ in order to protect the citizens’ housing rights.
He warned the legislative and executive authorities about the ‘mafia’, which will never be silent unless the housing issue is solved. He said this ‘mafia’ is satisfied that most citizens are renting houses, so it will do everything to hinder efforts to solve the issue. MP Ahmed Lari expressed support for the bill, indicating the country is suffering due to the presence of ‘mafias’ in various sectors like education, health and municipality among others.
He stressed that it is no longer acceptable for a citizen to wait for about 18 years to receive a plot and then spend the rest of his life paying for the loan he got for the construction of his house. MP Faisal Al-Kandari also supports the bill; but he underscored the need to specify the plot and house construction cost, taking into consideration the infl ation rate. He said the bill must be detailed, instead of leaving everything to the issuance of executive regulations which might defeat the purpose of the bill. MP Hamdan Al-Azmi pointed out the bill has no clear stipulation on the participation of foreign investors. Nevertheless, he praised the bill; affirming that it is urgently needed since the government failed to address the housing issue.
MP Alyaa Al-Khalid supports the bill as well, but she wants to know the rationale behind stating that the proposed real estate companies will be established in line with the Islamic Law (Sharia). She said this requirement could lead to discrimination among citizens, because some of them might not be able to acquire shares for this reason. She added this requirement will negatively affect the classification of Kuwaiti legislation, while confirming the bill is a step in the right direction. Housing Affairs Committee Chairman MP Hassan Jawhar affirmed that the panel will consider the MPs’ comments, urging them to submit their comments in writing.
He then clarified that the Sharia Law is already applied on companies which were established recently and it did not prevent any citizen from participating in the public subscription. Meanwhile, the Assembly postponed discussion on report number nine of the Interior and Defense Affairs Committee about the proposal to amend Election Law number 35/1962 as per the request of the government. This bill aims to address ambiguities in the existing law, such as the transfer of voters from one constituency to another. The bill also stipulates replacing the General Department for Elections at the Ministry of Interior with the Higher Commission on Elections. Minister of State for National Assembly, Housing and Urban Development Affairs Ammar Al-Ajmi disclosed the government is preparing a comprehensive bill on elections, urging the Assembly to give the government more time to complete the bill.
MP Hassan Jawhar stressed the need for political reform to guarantee true representation of citizens. He added the government controls the election mechanism and emphasized the importance of establishing an independent election authority. Assembly Speaker Ahmad Al-Saadoun adjourned the ordinary session to pave way for a special session on the report of the State Audit Bureau (SAB) about the State budget for fiscal year 2021/2022. Chairman of SAB Faisal Al-Shaya and some senior officials conducted a presentation on the State budget and final accounts of several independent institutions.
They presented comments on the State budget as follows: delayed collection of debts that reached about KD3.5 million by the end of fiscal 2021/2022, stressing the need to expedite the collection in order to prevent the accumulation of unpaid debts; delayed establishment of internal monitoring and inspection units in different public institutions as per Cabinet decision number 283/2011; lack of link between public institutions and their overseas offices which is essential for proper follow up and auditing; credit balances in the bank accounts of some institutions which have yet to pay their debts to the ministries of Education, Public Works, Communications, Information, Electricity, Water and Renewable Energy, as well as the Secretariat General of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, Kuwait Central Statistical Bureau and Civil Service Commission; discrepancies in the value of State properties in the final account of the State Financial Management Unit and in the 2021/2022 budget – a difference of about KD2.5 million.
They added the expenditure on development projects is lower than the budget allocated for 23 projects – KD37.9 million for five projects in the Ministry of Education, three each in the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Electricity, Water and Renewable Energy, and 12 projects in other public institutions. On the budgets of subsidiaries, SAB recorded low expenditure on the development projects of Kuwait Direct investment Promotion Authority (KDIPA), Public Authority for Disabled Affairs (PADA), and Public Authority for Youth and Sports that spent almost 28 percent of the budget for such projects.
On the budgets of independent institutions, SAB revealed that 31.6 percent of the budget allocated for development projects went to 154 projects. The budget for this purpose is KD712.3 million, while the expenditure reached KD224.8 million. The bureau also touched on the rising number of vacant leadership positions in public institutions, low oil production in the joint oil fields between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia compared to the estimated quantity, failure of Kuwait Oil Company to implement petrochemical projects, and losses resulting from burning huge amount of gas during the oil extraction process In addition, MPs commented on the presentation of SAB; while stressing the importance of its monitoring role. MP Muhannad Al-Sayer asserted that the violations recorded by SAB are enough to overthrow the entire government.
He said the amount related to violations at Touristic Enterprises Company (TEC) reached half a billion Kuwaiti dinars and the fact-finding committee that the Finance Ministry formed will soon submit its report to Kuwait Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha). MP Osama Al-Zaid thinks that SAB is no longer the powerful monitoring arm of the Assembly, because it has adopted a selective attitude. MP Hamdan Al-Azmi praised the efforts of SAB, but the latter’s monitoring role is getting weaker and measures taken against those proven to have committed violations are not strong enough to serve as a deterrent. MP Khalil Abul attributed the weak performance of the bureau to the dispute between its chairman and vice chairman. He pointed out that the relevant law obligates SAB to publish its report on the performance of the Finance Ministry.
He wants to know if there are reports on the performance of the ministry. MP Adel Al-Damkhi clarified that they are criticizing the performance of SAB for the latter to improve its work and address shortcomings. MP Muhannad Al-Sayer stressed the need to amend the law on the establishment of SAB to ensure protection of its officials who have been pressured to make certain changes in their reports. Lastly, Assembly Speaker Ahmed Al- Saadoun adjourned the session until Jan 10, 2023 after MP Khalil Abul collapsed due to diabetic coma. He was rushed to the hospital. By Saeed Mahmoud Saleh Arab Times Staff