Monday , October 23 2017

New thinking key to population balance

Amer Al-Tameemi
Since the beginning of this year 2017, one of the major talks of the town has been the population situation. One related issue is the imbalance between Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis, where non-Kuwaitis represent 70% of the population while the Kuwaitis make up merely 30%. The total population hovers around 4.2 million today. Sixty years ago in 1957, when the first population census was conducted, the total population of the country was no more than 225,000. This means that the current population is almost 19 times its size in 1957. It is a significant increase and not compatible with normal population growth in normal societies. However, Kuwait went through economic and social changes after the beginning of the oil economy which induced significant growth of the population.

Another issue which has been subject to debate is how the number of Kuwaitis reached its current level of 1.3 million, when we were only 115,000 according to the 1957 census. Questions have been raised by some politicians and other social activists on whether abuse of the naturalization procedures has taken place in the last 60 years and since the enacting of Law 15 of 1959, which stipulates the issue of nationality and naturalization. Of course such matters can be ticklish and divisive. Yet it is a major concern for a great number of Kuwaitis who want to know how the government has dealt with this important issue.

The Kuwait population structure has not been considered seriously by the authorities since the liberation in 1991. We have to admit that the demographic characteristics after 1991 were degraded due to the influx of low quality labor in large numbers. According to the Central Statistics Office more than 75 percent of expatriates have not earned a high school education. More than 650,000 are domestic workers. That means for every two Kuwaitis there is one domestic worker. The situation in the private sector is not rosy either. Most of the employed workers are not skilled or highly educated.

Now, if we decide to balance or improve the percentage of Kuwaitis in the population structure, we must consider a real and systematic solution. Education is the key. We must emphasize vocational education in order to produce skilled Kuwaiti workers who can assume responsibilities in many economic sectors and perform in many occupations. The educational system, after more than 80 years, is not coping with demand in the labor market. At the same time the value system is not conducive with the needs of that labor market as many Kuwaitis shun jobs and tasks that are essential to the economy. At the same time, there are many activities and businesses that are out of place but create demand for foreign labor.

It is also important that the authorities, legislative and executive, recognize the need for change in employment policies. Employing Kuwaitis in the public sector and government departments cannot be sustained. The private sector must assume its responsibilities in the employment of the native labor force. This can be attained by identifying the jobs and occupations that must be held by Kuwaitis only. At the same time employment in the public sector must be rationalized and based on real needs. Now the government employs all Kuwaitis who apply for jobs and ends up creating disguised unemployment.

Attitudes

As for Kuwaitis and the high rate of their population growth, one can cite many causes. Kuwait is basically a Third World country which is subject to many features and attitudes of under-development. Any Kuwaiti family, regardless of the level of education of the parents may have an average of 4 children. The fertility rate is still high despite the enrollment of women in the work force. However, the naturalization of many people who came from non-urban social environments also added to this high population growth. It is important to adopt new plans to encourage Kuwaitis to rationalize their social norms and adopt the concept of a nuclear family.

One can conclude that balancing of the population structure needs novel thinking and realistic approaches. It will not be easy to lower the number of non-Kuwaitis without the preparation and training of Kuwaitis. Now it is essential to induce the natives to accept new fiscal policies that will rationalize subsidies and salaries and encourage them to accept employment in private firms and companies. I also think that while new policies are important, it is even more important to have the will to implement such policies.

By Amer Theyab Al-Tameemi – Economic Consultant and Researcher

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