A COUPLE of days ago, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that it will grant gold cards. According to the tweet of Vice-President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid: “Permanent residency will be granted to investors and exceptional workers in health, engineering, science and art. The first batch includes 6,800 investors with a total investment of AED100 billion.”
Some days earlier, the Saudi Council of Consultants approved the ‘distinguished residency’ system which is not different from what has been approved by the UAE.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia opened its doors to investors from all over the world a few years ago without the need for a Saudi sponsor. In the UAE, there are free zones for this purpose. They also allow investors to hire the workers they need, away from complications such as age and questions like the names of their mothers and aunts and other outdated procedures that are still enforced in Kuwait.
A similar system was implemented in Bahrain some years ago. It turned the small kingdom into an international financial center, thanks to the off-shore system. All these support the economy of other Gulf countries which constitute the GCC along with Kuwait. GCC summits approved a number of comprehensive agreements; yet we, in Kuwait, are still working according to the systems of the 1960s and 1970s. Moreover, we see a decision being taken every day to close the doors to any investor by adding more conditions imposed by different ministries.
In this context, I would like to ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior about the security obsession which controls decisions in your ministry more than in any other country. Despite the difficult security challenges that Saudi Arabia is facing; it approved flexible laws, issued decisions and enforced systems which opened the gates to diversification of the economy. The same steps have been taken by the UAE although it is facing security challenges which are more difficult than what Kuwait is facing.
Whoever decides to visit Kuwait will encounter all kinds of obstacles, starting from the issuance of visa that resembles a police operation. In many cases, it is subject to the personal mood of the person reviewing the application and it is up to him to simply dismiss the request.
In other countries, whoever possesses money to cover his stay in the host country receives the visa. On the other side, this process has become an evil trade which negatively affects the economy. It has become the most common reason behind the flight of investors.
We need to take a look at international reports classifying Kuwait as an investment repellant State. In 2009, Kuwait did not attract any investor at all. What was the reason then?
Minister of Interior, you have to study what is happening in neighboring countries, especially in terms of enhancing openness to the world. You have to watch the giant strides they have taken in the diversification of wealth sources. The ministries of interior in those countries, which are in charge of the issuance of visas and residence permits, always take the initiative in making dreams come true; but this is not the case in Kuwait. It seems we are going to Hajj at a time others are coming back. Why all this complication?
Many countries facilitate residency procedures like specifying the amount of money in the bank account in order to obtain permanent residency or even citizenship. In Kuwait, the relatively flexible residency procedures are being turned into restrictions. Do you believe that those coming to Kuwait are criminals keen on destroying the demographic balance?
How can Kuwait transform into an international financial and commercial center and develop the Silk City and islands if it fends off all people? If it is true that public sector employees must be Kuwaitis, how the complications in the private sector will be justified? Is this the way to transform Kuwait into an international financial and commercial center?
The UAE, Saudi Arabia and other countries supported security and enforced laws on everybody. They also opened the doors to everybody in order to bolster the economy. In Kuwait, the offices of senior officials are closed to the public. Whoever applies for a visa is received by an angry face.
It was reported that one day, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid witnessed overcrowding in a service center. He immediately dismissed the responsible person and ordered removal of the doors of offices so they are open to the public. This happened while we see closed doors and angry faces in Kuwait.
O Minister of Interior, are we going to see you one day removing doors and facilitating completion of transactions for those who look forward to visiting Kuwait? Or will you remain afraid of the reaction of the MP keen on serving personal interests by raising slogans without taking any practical step? Is anybody listening or somebody is deaf?
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times