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Tuesday , August 11 2020

Your Highness PM … smiles don’t nourish, markets are only praised by those who profit from them

Ahmed Al-Jarallah Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times

IT would have been simple if it had not happened during the COVID-19 era, especially at a time when daily news continues to lead us to new corrupt individuals who have encroached into every beam of the country.

Undoubtedly, the current crisis exacerbates the pain of Kuwaitis, and puts more burden on them especially after the government shut its doors of salvation in their faces. It used the “carrot and stick” approach such that the people are not getting the carrot but continue to get whipped by the stick of bankruptcy on a daily basis.

Every time people see a smile on the face of His Highness the Prime Minister, they expect glad tidings in the form of a decision or rather a solution that would cushion them from the current crisis. However, all they get is disappointment as soon as that smile dims away.

Everyone agrees on the fact that the government and the National Assembly have oversight authority on every establishment. The tools to contain and stop the corruption epidemic, which can only be cured through cauterization, are in their hands, without involving officials and representatives on both sides in embarrassing and shameful corruption cases.

Also, everyone believes that the executive authority has the final say in protecting the public funds and generating more wealth through profitable investments, either locally or internationally.

The government is entrusted with protecting the national wealth from misuse. It is a duty that it solely bears in terms of responsibility. On the other hand, the duty of the legislative authority is to ensure checks and balance are in order, without rendering blackmail to be the top priority of the parliamentarians in a bid to score electoral gains.

Therefore, the corruption in Kuwait is quite astonishing especially when realizing that some legislators, officials, ministerial undersecretaries and law enforcement officers have been involved in the visa trading business. The most recent revelation in this regard is the scandal involving a Bangladeshi citizen.

There is no doubt that this scandal will not be the only one, as there are many corrupt people who are still working to this moment in the dark clouds of this forbidden trade.

In the past months, the government missed several opportunities which could have cushioned and even absorbed the impact of the current crisis. It could have done so by taking advantage of the excellent credit rating that Kuwait enjoys and by following the path that other GCC countries went through in terms of employing their good credit reputation for obtaining long-term loans.

Another path the government could have taken was buying shares that are losing value but are still considered profitable, in addition to investing in real-estate and major international companies. This would have generated huge gains by transforming threat into opportunity. It could have also worked towards supporting the private sector to prevent the looming cloud of bankruptcy in order for life to return to normal with minimal losses.

It is really unfortunate that our stimulus package is still a phantom. If that is not the case, we challenge our Central Bank to publish the names of the establishments or individuals who have obtained loans through this stimulus package plan.

It is certain there is someone who is snapping his fingers and saying, “Here we are, the crisis is about to come to an end and we haven’t loaned out any money at a time when small companies and young entrepreneurs in the private sector are on their knees”.

O Your Highness the Prime Minister, you know quite well through the institutions affiliated with the government and the Central Bank that the investable assets in Kuwait have sustained major losses during the crisis because they were managed using unclear plans. While the returns of other Gulf countries increased, they decreased in Kuwait.

We are in a position that enables us to take a long-term loan, but the executive authority is instead still in the captivity of the parliamentary bargaining in terms of the public debt law. It is quite clear that it will not take a bold step due to its fear of the phantom of accountability, while the crisis is worsening.

The government holds in its hand the sword of emergency decree through which it can chop off the head of self-interest, and cushion people from the impacts of the current crisis.

Hence, the government will not get the KD 20-billion that it requested to reinforce the reserve, which unfortunately is being eroded by ventures that currently prevail in the arena, while it continues to fear the parliamentarians.

According to the latest reports concerning the losses incurred in the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have reached $21 trillion. There are many countries that will recover from the incurred losses within a year or two, but in Kuwait, all estimates indicate that the economy will shrink and the capital cycle will decline.

This comes as a result of the implemented plans which were just a smokescreen, while in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Britain, France, Italy and other countries, hundreds of billions were pumped to help the private sector without the need to wait for parliamentarians to grace such a measure with approval. Because of this, these countries are already reaping benefits despite the crisis.

Your Highness the Prime Minister, if we reviewed all the laws that crippled the country starting with the misplaced subsidies, the northern oil fields and electricity, the “Dow Chemical” losses, and the anti-coeducation policies along with other similar laws, we would find that they have been based on the mentality of treachery, skepticism, and social backwardness.

Oddly enough, those who approved them are lamenting during their seminars on Kuwait’s economic, cultural, scientific and social retrogression. They are tantamount to murderers who attend the funeral of their victims.

To be honest, there is legitimate looting ongoing in Kuwait through absurd laws and decisions, along with illegitimate looting through widespread corruption in institutions. The ones paying the price for all this are the future of the people and the national wealth. Today, with the COVID-19 crisis and its negative repercussions, challenges have intensified to the extent that the people of this country are fearing for their future.

All we hear is just talks about corruption, followed by smiles, while we are yet to see a remedy to it.

Your Highness, we will not point out what some of the Gulf countries did and continue to do in their efforts to deal with corruption. However, we should at least learn from the Western countries and the way they punish even the slightest misappropriation of public wealth. For instance, a crime of tax evasion imposes a sentence of ten-year imprisonment on the perpetrator.

In Kuwait, we are yet to see a corrupt person being imprisoned or even exposed; in fact, some of those who violated the public funds managed to escape overseas in broad daylight, and the state did not take any step to recover this money.

As for the stimulus package, among the most important conditions in order for companies to qualify for such loans is that they must be profitable, and they should have liquidity and collateral assets.

O Your Highness, and the Central Bank governor, I beg to ask – Would such companies really need stimulus loans?

In other countries, such loans were guaranteed by governments under relaxed conditions. No absurd measures were put in place to incapacitate or discourage the borrower; instead, the conditions were made easier in order to obtain such loans and keep the businesses running.

With all due respect, we thank you for your smiles, O Your Highness the Prime Minister, but we have to be frank with you when we say such smiles are not giving us any reassurance.

What the people are aspiring for are firm decisions that would rescue them from what they are going through. Give us inspiration and assurance that our future is guaranteed, instead of just statements that neither nourish nor avail hunger.

There is a popular saying – “Whoever attends the market sells and buys”. However, in our case, it seems very clear that Kuwait is neither selling nor buying. It instead has been preoccupied with rhetoric, hearsay and smiles throughout the past stages, some of which seemed to be sarcastic.

By Ahmed Al-Jarallah

Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times

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