THE government hardly announced the process of streamlining expenditures when the wailers raised their voices. They deliberately ignored the fact that no matter how serious the current crisis is, it cannot be compared to the experience a quarter century ago when the Iraqi invasion pushed Kuwaitis to face the reality of life. Everybody forgot about political affiliations, whereas there was nothing like opportunists and parliamentary seat seekers who wasted public funds on grants and allowances based on the principle, “Your uncle’s wealth does not concern you.”
Based on the foregoing, it is possible to watch the ‘boring performance’ on lifting the fuel subsidy and lawsuits filed by some people against the government in this regard. The best move is for those people to consider the country’s economic and financial situation in order to realize that the challenge is enormous while nobody should embark on popularity and electoral propaganda.
In 1990, Kuwaitis worked as car washers, cleaned streets, sold fruits, meat and baked goods after the expatriates left the country. They did not rely on the government then and even the aids sent to them were not enough to sustain them. Is the current crisis, when the government performs its duties and citizens are stable in their country, more serious than the former?
The steps being taken now should have been taken 40 years ago when loud voices were clamoring for diversification of resources and lesser dependence on oil. However, what happened was the contrary. Expenditures on consumables increased while the lawmakers were and still buying votes with social consumable tendencies. This worsened the economic situation and raised government expenses which, in reality means, the citizens were paying from their pockets and the same is true for the future generations. The best example is the Segregation Law.
In 1990, the government played the expected role in taking care of displaced Kuwaitis. In comparison, Britain — the ever shining empire — was forced during World War II to take maximum austerity measures to an extent that the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “If I guarantee your lunch, I should not guarantee the dinner, and if I guarantee both, the meal will be an egg.” Nobody cried over the fuel price hike then.
In the early 1960s when the United States was at its best economically, John Kennedy was asked as a presidential candidate, “What will the country offer to the Americans.” He responded, “Before you ask me that question, you should ask what you have done for the country.” In our country, we expect a parliamentary elections candidate to ask the electorate, “What did or will you do for Kuwait?” before promising them manna and quails from the public fund.
Kuwait is the only country in the world where citizens are taken care of from birth till death, while more wealthy and highly democratic countries do not take care of their citizens the same way. Citizens in those countries pay taxes and fees for all services without hesitation, and they bear responsibilities during economic recession.
In June last year, 95 percent of Swiss citizens refused to take salary from the government, because they considered it as encouraging laziness. Yet, we waste KD 7 billion annually to subsidize services, goods and food items sold in black markets and smuggled to other countries.
Yes, the hard times may be beneficial. The oil price decline we are facing now encourages steps towards reforming lapses in government expenses. If these expenses continue the same way, there will come a day when the government will not be able to pay the salaries of workers. Is it desirable that the government becomes captive of lawmakers who threaten to grill or blog on Twitter only to avoid political questioning? Is it not the height of weakness and frailty?
Some GCC countries started diversifying the economy and moving away from oil as the sole source of income several years back. The UAE took a pioneering step in this regard such that it reduced reliance on oil from 90 percent to 30 percent. Dubai has gone down from 80 percent to almost seven percent. This is backed by streamlining expenses to curb wastage and the outcome is high rate of production.
The current crisis requires the government to be the rescuer by all means. It should defend its programs aggressively, because that is the foundation for resolving the crisis and correcting historical inadequacy. If it succumbs to populist parliamentary threats, it must bear the responsibility. If the government does not bear responsibility, the country will join the economic and financial recession nations, and that would have given the first casualty to the daggers of lawmakers.
We should be grateful to the dwindling oil prices which woke us up from our daydreams, making us face the reality that we should have a single salary scale as obtainable in other countries across the world.
Salaries should not vary from one ministry, institution or sector to another in a way that a security guard in the oil sector receives salary higher than that of a minister in another sector. Everybody should bear national responsibility through actions rather than merely raising slogans.
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times