GENERALLY, the Domestic Workers Law will give a civilized picture of how to deal with domestic workers globally. It will reduce the cost for hiring domestic workers – more reasonable than the current cost, MP Ahmed Hajji Lari stated in an exclusive interview with the Arab Times. During the interview, the lawmaker talked about various pressing issues, including the lifting of subsidies on essential commodities and services as well as its effect on the livelihood of citizens and expatriates. He expressed his opinions on the recent increase in fuel prices, the austerity measures being taken by the government to cover the budget deficit, ways to recover from the economic crises, and finding alternative sources of revenues instead of oil which is the current source of 90 percent the country’s income.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Question: Is the country’s economy moving towards the right direction?
Answer: Many studies and recommendations have been presented regarding the economic reform documents, but unfortunately, there is no genuine willingness and seriousness in implementing these recommendations. Therefore, no one is optimistic towards the financial and economic reform.
Q: The country is facing budget deficit due to the oil price decline. What is the alternative to oil as the income source of the nation? Is the government’s measure to lift subsidies on some commodities and services a step in the right direction, especially in terms of covering the deficit and recovering from the poor economic standard?
A: A press interview is not enough for one to talk about alternative sources of revenue, but I want to emphasize that many countries have succeeded in finding alternatives to oil such as focusing on education and human resources. In Kuwait, our position is special and unique compared to other countries like Iraq, Syria and Yemen. These countries have enormous reconstruction needs and better future, so Kuwait can become a transit point for the reconstruction projects of these countries. It can also become a hub for international companies to start rebuilding these countries. Locally, Kuwait can benefit from leasing land and increasing leasing fees. Now, the price is only KD3 per meter annually and the State can increase this charge to serve as a source of revenue. In general, there are many sources of revenues that can be used to increase the State budget and reduce financial waste in many projects. For instance, the Public Tenders Law has contributed a lot in ensuring transparency in floating and awarding tenders.
Q: The government has started taking austerity measures to face the economic crises and cover the budget deficit by lifting subsidies on several commodities and services, the latest of which is the increase in fuel prices. Are these measures correct or there are steps better than what the government is doing now?
A: Budget rationalization, which includes lifting or reducing subsidies, is part of the economic reform document that the government presented to the Parliament. However, the difference is that the government adopted only the lifting subsidies part and ignored the other essential parts. It is necessary that the document is implemented fully and comprehensively, not partially. This matter must be made known to the public, for the citizens and expatriates to voice their views in a transparent manner as it happened in the fuel price increase issue. Again on fuel, there are recommendations from the Financial Affairs Committee such as determining fuel price based on the market price, not fixed price as it occurred with diesel and kerosene. The committee also suggested supporting citizens financially and exempting them from price hikes while the Commerce Ministry must intensify its price control measures to prevent unjustified price hikes.
Q: Do you think the government’s non-implementation of all the contents of the economic reform document will lead to a confrontation between the legislative and executive authorities, particularly once the Parliament opens next month?
A: The government promised that in December 2016, it will start supporting citizens in light of the fuel price hike. I think a clash between the two authorities is unnecessary because the Parliament has been dealing with the government transparently. The prices of fuel also increased in the 1990s and the Parliament at that time presented recommendations. On the contrary, the current Parliament did not present its recommendations when the fuel prices increased recently but the two authorities had an emergency meeting in the Parliament Office, during which they agreed to study the issue and to support citizens. This did not happen in the previous parliaments.
Q: Is the standard of education good or is there any need for adjustment and reform?
A: In Kuwait, we need educational revolution, particularly in the curricula, schools and universities. Fortunately, a draft law on universities will be presented to the Parliament soon. Hopefully, this will contribute to the positive development of higher education in Kuwait.
Q: The country has only one public university – the Kuwait University, in addition to the Public Authority for Applied Education and Training (PAAET). The Education Committee at the National Assembly is about to approve a draft law on the establishment of government universities in major cities, instead of branches of faculties. Can this bill, if approved, solve problems in the educational sector such as the lack of seats and increasing tuition fees in private universities?
A: Yes, I hope the draft law will solve all problems in the higher education sector.
Q: The Parliament passed the Domestic Workers Law recently. When will this law be implemented? What will be its contributions in terms of addressing issues concerning the domestic workers?
A: The Interior Ministry issued the executive regulations for the law and this is a good step. The law stipulates establishment of a domestic workers recruitment company. The law can be described as high quality, modern and humanitarian because it keeps pace with international developments. With the issuance of the executive regulations, the Interior Ministry has started implementing the contents of this law. With regards to the company, Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) has carried out feasibility studies. Hopefully, this law will be implemented soon in order to establish a company for recruiting domestic workers and the company is expected to start operating by the beginning of next year as well as the opening of its branches in cooperative societies in different parts of the country. In general, the law gives a civilized picture of how to deal with domestic workers globally. It will reduce the cost for hiring domestic workers, more reasonable than what we are seeing today.
Q: Do you think Domestic Workers Law number 86/2015 is perfect or it still needs some adjustments?
A: The law has just been enforced and we have no objection to its amendment if the need arises. I proposed an amendment to the law – deletion of Item D in Article 24 which stipulates that administrative measures shall be taken against domestic labor offices if they hire the ‘retrieved’ workers or those recruited by others. I hope this amendment will be discussed as soon as the Parliament resumes.
Q: Why do you want to amend this part of the law?
A: It should be amended in order to ensure equality between domestic labor offices and the closed joint stock company for the recruitment and employment of domestic workers. I present this proposal because the item prohibits domestic offices from recruiting the ‘retrieved’ workers, while the closed joint stock company is allowed to do so.
Q: Please explain the law and its importance to the employers and the employees?
A: First, I must praise Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Khalid for the issuance of the executive regulations of the law that the Parliament ratified last year. I must also thank everyone who contributed to the passage of the law and the efforts exerted by officials at the Interior Ministry, headed by the minister.
According to the executive regulations, the minimum wage for domestic workers is KD60 monthly – the first step of its kind in the history of the country. The law grants domestic workers unprecedented rights such as limiting their work hours to eight hours daily, mandatory weekend off and 30 days paid annual leave.
The law covers private drivers, maids, babysitters and cooks. This modern law, as I call it, is in line with the global requirements and Kuwait’s status as an international humanitarian center through the directives of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah – the International Humanitarian Leader. I want to assure the owners of domestic labor offices that the Parliament will work with them to ensure that the principle of equality is observed in the application of this law, whether the domestic labor offices or the company established for this purpose.
Biography MP Ahmed Hajji Lari was born 1955. He holds a Bachelors degree in Statistics. He was a member of the Municipal Council for three consecutive terms from 1993 and a member of the National Assembly in 2006 and 2008. He was a member of the February and December 2012 parliaments that was annulled by the Constitutional Court. In addition, Lari was chairman of the General Assembly for the Protection of Public Money, chairman of the Kuwaiti Society for the Development of Democracy and a member of Social Cultural Society. In 2005, he was expelled from the Popular Action Bloc (PAB), along with Shiite colleague Adnan Abdulsamad, for his alleged participation in the ceremony that depicted Mughniyah as a hero. In 2008, Lari faced trial on allegations that he participated in a ceremony to eulogize the death of slain top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah following which a travel ban was imposed on him but he was acquitted. In the annulled 2012 Parliament, he was elected to the Permanent Economic and Financial Affairs Committee. He was elected to the same committee following the December 2012 elections. His priorities included national unity and combating corruption. Lari is one of the Shiite minority members of the Parliament, known for their pro-Cabinet tendencies and he represented the National Islamic Alliance. The MP contested in the 2013 elections but was unsuccessful. In the 2014 by-election, Lari won second place with 1,985 votes to occupy one of the two seats in the Second Constituency that became vacant following the resignation of ex-MPs Riyadh Al-Adsani and Ali Al-Rashid. In the current Parliament, Lari serves as rapporteur of the Parliamentary Priorities Committee and a member of Human and National Resources Development Committee.
By Abubakar A. Ibrahim Arab Times Staff