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Pensions, petrol, nationality top agenda – MP raps rise in gasoline prices

KUWAIT CITY, Oct 23: The second legislative term of the National Assembly will open tomorrow, with draft laws on pensions, petrol prices and nationality being on top of the agenda. Other draft legislations, suggested by lawmakers, deal with good governance, revision of the penal code, the family court, and the government-run universities as well as the file of unaccredited university degrees, scholarships and nominations.

The draft amendments to the social security act envisage bringing down the retirement age 45 for females and 50 for males and reducing the minimum period of actual service to 20 years for females and 25 for males. Regarding the nationality act, lawmakers press for controls on the numbers of people eligible for obtaining the Kuwaiti nationality in 2017 and launching a circuit court to rule on related administrative causes.

As for petrol issues, some lawmakers suggest revoking the price hikes that came into force in early September 2016.

Other draft laws deal with issues of genetic fingerprint and social aid. In its first legislative term, the 15th National Assembly passed 89 legislations, including seven laws, 12 agreements, 38 budgets and 32 final accounts. Some of these legislations regulate the affairs of juvenile affairs, set up a portfolio at the Industrial Bank of Kuwait to support the small enterprises, amend the Corporate Act I for 2016, and amend the proceedings of objection at the Court of Cassation.

The MPs passed an act on exceptional pensions and benefits for military retirees, national teaching staff and staffers of the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs. The military retirees who completed 20 years in service were entitled to get exceptional pensions ranging between KD 250 and KD 400 according to their respective ranks. A KD 0.302 equals $1. Kuwaiti members of the teaching staff, belonging to the Ministry of Education, and staffers of Al-Awqaf Ministry who serviced for 30 years for males and 25 years for females were entitled to get end-service benefit equivalent their salaries in one and a half years in addition to other financial awards. The lawmakers also approved amendments to the civil service act that entitled employees at the private sector to end-service benefits.

The amendments of the juvenile affairs act set controls on penalties for juvenile delinquencies that prevented issuance of capital punishment and life sentences for a person below the age 18 whatever the crime might be. The MPs will also discuss a grilling motion presented against State Minister for Cabinet Affairs and Acting Information Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdallah Al-Sabah as well as other items on the agenda. His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al- Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah will open the legislative term with a speech, and Speaker of National Assembly Marzouq Al-Ghnaim and His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah will deliver their speeches later.

The Parliament is set to discuss the grilling move submitted by MPs Riyadh Al-Adsani and Abdulkarim Al- Kanderi against Sheikh Mohammad per se. Article 135 of the Parliament’s bylaws stipulates that the speaker must notify the prime minister or the concerned minister instantly upon submission of the interpellation motion. It also stipulates that the deliberations must be held eight days after submitting the motion, and that is in nonurgent cases, and with consent of the premier or the concerned executive. On Oct 8, the two lawmakers submitted a five-point grilling move against Sheikh Mohammad to the Speaker.

The first point covers Cabinet “irregularities in executing the state budget and non-commitment to enacting decisions. The second is related to “government failure” in tackling the issue of unemployment and state projects. The third outlines the inactivation of establishing an internal auditing body at the Information Ministry, and imbalances in the ministry’s expenditure and revenues. The grilling also accuses the Cabinet, in its fourth component, of “concealing information and delaying responses to parliamentary inquiries,” which was regarded a breach of the constitution.

Meanwhile, the fifth point accuses the Cabinet’s Legal Advice and Legislation Department of not establishing an inspection and auditing office. The first session of the term is set to focus on the agenda’s items, topped with the election of a secretary and a whip, and then the grilling motion against Sheikh Mohammad. Afterwards, the Parliament is expected to discuss the item concerning the election of 12 committees. MPs will elect members of the committees of complaints, internal and defense affairs, economic and financial affairs, legislative and legal affairs, educational and cultural affairs, guidance, social and health affairs and labor, foreign affairs, public utilities, State budgets and final account, public funds’ protection and parliamentary priorities.

The council ministers issued a Decree No. 299 /2017 inviting the National Assembly to hold the second session of the 15th legislative term on Tuesday. MP Faisal Al-Kandari has criticized the intention of Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC) to increase the prices of gasoline and other petroleum products, while stressing that Minister of Oil, Electricity and Water Essam Marzouq must bear the consequences of tolerating violations in the oil sector. Al-Kandari considers the plan of KPC an attempt to cover up financial and administrative irregularities and divert the attention of the public and lawmakers from the interpellation request against the oil minister. He voiced objection to any attempt to put pressure on citizens or increase their financial burdens, claiming that KPC is moving towards the wrong direction. He also finds it surprising that a security, safety and environment engineer was promoted to a higher position in planning and then in financial management although he is not specialized in this field. He stressed this is a first in the history of the corporation. He pointed out the oil minister has repeatedly demanded that those who have been in service for 35 years should either continue working or be referred for retirement.

He said the minister is handling the issue in a selective manner as the talented employees were referred for retirement, while the opportunists remained in their posts. He added the officials from losing companies were retained and those from profitable companies were asked to leave. He revealed he had earlier asked the minister about the criteria used in this aspect, but the latter did not respond; which means that budgets are passed based on the whims of certain officials. He went on to say the deputy CEO of KPC increased his salary from KD 3,000 to KD 12,000 in 2007 so that his end-of-service package will reach about one million Kuwaiti dinars.

“This is the money of the State and its people, not the money of some officials, but this is the bitter reality in terms of the end-of-service package and everyone knows about it,” he lamented. He criticized the contacts allegedly initiated by the oil minister, CEO of the corporation and his deputy with some MPs in a bid to know details of the interpellation motion before its formal submission, indicating the minister’s obedience to the CEO and his deputy will destroy the oil sector In a related development, MP Saleh Ashour said they have seen what the oil sector has been going through in facing successive crises; starting with the Dow Chemical fine, big losses in oil contracts, administrative violations in KPC and its subsidiaries, oil workers strike, huge amounts granted to oil sector officials which contravene the directives of the Council of Ministers on rationalizing expenditures, appointing the representative of US Dow Company as CEO of EQUATE in which Kuwait owns 42 percent of the capital, as well as the questionable promotions, transfers and appointments in KPC and its subsidiaries He explained the MPs have opted to remain silent despite their previous warnings about these issues because they want to give the minister a chance to maintain competent national competencies under the management of KPC for them to be involved in training courses, advisory and rehabilitation activities in and outside the country.

He underscored the need to stop the ongoing promotions and changes of posts in the oil sector, adding that such decisions must be taken after the appointment of the new board of directors. He said the government must stop wastage of public funds, especially in the oil sector which is the main source of national income. Meanwhile, the government is preparing for submission of economic draft bills to the National Assembly in the next legislative round. Financial sources disclosed the bill on borrowing will be submitted to the Assembly in mid-November, including the amendments such as raising the ceiling for public borrowing from KD 10 billion to KD 25 billion. Sources clarified this does not mean the full amount will be granted at once, as the aim is to have a wider scope of borrowing internally and externally as the situation requires.

The new bill on borrowing is an extension of a series of laws enacted since 1987 to allow the government to borrow to cover the budget deficit abd the bill stipulates 30-year debt securities. It can be recalled that the country issued its first international bonds worth $8 billion in March for five and 10 years. The concerned institutions are also working on a bill that allows the government to issue ‘Sukuk’ (Islamic bonds), as the current legislative framework does not allow the government to raise funds through Islamic bonds. According to the Ministry of Finance, the economic reform measures taken so far have resulted in savings of more than one billion Kuwaiti dinars in the budget for fiscal 2016/2017. These reforms include the gasoline price hike last year, adjusting the ceiling and growth rate of public spending, stopping irregularities in the establishment of public institutions and expediting the collection of State dues. The economic reforms also included plans to introduce 10 percent tax on the net profits of companies and five percent value added tax (VAT) which other GCC countries have already adopted. Furthermore, the sovereign fund assets managed by Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) increased by 34 percent over the last five years.

By Abubakar A. Ibrahim Arab Times Staff and Agencies

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