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Amnesty bills die as push comes to shove

SPEAKER APOLOGY AT MOMENTARY LAPSE OF ASSEMBLY DECORUM

KUWAIT CITY, Feb 18: The National Assembly on Tuesday witnessed a very hot debate on the Legislative Affairs Committee’s report about the general amnesty draft laws.

The MPs were divided as some of them supported the decision of the committee to combine three amnesty bills in one report, while others voiced objection and called for voting on each bill individually. Several other MPs asked Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al- Ghanim to return the report to the committee in order to rectify what they consider a violation of the National Assembly Decree.

MP Abdulkareem Al-Kandari pointed this out, stressing that the Assembly instructed the committee to study only the draft law on granting amnesty to those convicted of storming the Assembly building.

He said the committee did not follow the instruction as it combined this draft law with two others in one report. Al-Ghanim clarified that he has no authority to return the report to the committee, disclosing he received two requests: one is to discuss and vote on the bills separately, and the other is to return the report to the committee.

When the Speaker announced the start of voting on the first request; a number of MPs including Muhammad Barrak Al-Mutair, Thamer Al-Suwait, Abdulkareem Al-Kandari shouted and asked Al- Ghanim to stop the voting while the Assembly secretary read the MPs’ names and noted their votes. In a dramatic turn of events, the visitors also started to shout — some at Al-Ghanim and others at the second party, until the security guards guided two of them out of the session hall. The Speaker instructed the guards to ask the visitors to go out of the session hall without using force. Voting on the first request continued but a heated debate between the MPs turned physical as they started pushing each other after exchanging strong words. Nevertheless, 42 MPs voted in favor of separating the bills while one voted against.

Al-Ghanim opened voting on the bills individually as the approval of the first request entails it is no longer necessary to vote on returning the report to the committee. He adjourned the session for 15 minutes until all the visitors were guided out of the hall.

The Speaker resumed the session, asserting that what transpired earlier was morally wrong and the people of Kuwait will judge accordingly. He also affirmed that each party was given a chance to express their views. He then announced the start of voting on the general amnesty for those convicted of storming the Assembly building. Only one MP out of 63 attendees supported the bill. Therefore, the Speaker declared rejection of the bill based on the result of voting.

He moved to vote on the amnesty for those convicted in the Abdally cell case with only three MPs out of 22 voting in its favor. The amnesty for former MP Abdulhameed Dashti got the same number of votes, so the Speaker confirmed rejection of all three general amnesty bills and then adjourned the session until Feb 19.

In a press statement after the session, Al-Ghanim apologized to the citizens for what happened at the session. He stressed that Abdullah Al-Salem Hall is part of the Kuwaiti history and it should not have witnessed such a scenario. He said the MPs involved in the scenario like MP Muhammad Barrak Al-Mutair received orders to disrupt the session in a bid to stop the vote on granting amnesty to those convicted of storming the Assembly building, because they are fully aware that they do not have enough support. He added their objective was to force citizens to lose confidence in democracy as they want the issue to continue.

Oath-taking
Meanwhile, prior to deliberations on the amnesty bills, the session started with the oath taking of newly appointed Finance Minister Barrak Al-Shetian and Minister of Electricity and Water Muhammad Bushehri. The Assembly then tackled other items in the agenda including the proposal to amend the Social Security Law and salary advance for retirees.

During the session, Chairperson of the Financial and Economic Affairs Committee MP Safa’a Al-Hashem delivered a presentation on the committee’s report number 23 about the proposal to reduce installment for loans granted by the Public Institution for Social Security (PIFSS) from 25 percent to 10 percent of the pension. This is in addition to report number 24 and attached report on reducing loan interest according to the tables edited by the Ministry of Finance.

Al- Hashem affirmed the report was finalized after a series of extensive meetings with the government. She highlighted advantages of the proposed amendment, stressing that the cost will not be very high as the number of citizens expected to obtain a loan is just 40,000. She pointed out that although the bill will not be enforced retroactively, it is beneficial for the retirees who already obtained a loan.

For example, if the remaining loan amount is KD 15,000; this will be reduced to around KD 7,000 or KD 8,000 once the bill is implemented, she explained. Before commenting on the bill, newly appointed Minister of Finance Barrak Al-Shetian thanked HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al- Jaber Al-Sabah for trusting him and HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah for assigning such a huge responsibility to him. He pointed out that the bill stipulates important privileges for retirees and protects the rights of PIFSS. He confirmed the bill is in line with the Islamic Sharia as it is based on an Islamic concept like social solidarity. He disclosed that he had earlier asked PIFSS if granting loans is beneficial to the institution and the latter informed him there is no profit for PIFSS but the cost will be covered in a balanced manner.

He also affirmed support for the report of the committee and urged the MPs to do the same; considering the heirs will not be required to pay as the institution will grant salary advance, not loan. Most of the MPs agreed this is the least they could do for the retirees.

MP Osama Al-Sahheen praised the committee’s report, but it would have been better if the committee invited an Islamic Sharia scholar to cover all aspects of the issue. He clarified that waiving the remaining installments upon the death of the beneficiary is in line with the Islamic Sharia only if the creditor decides to give up his money.

He added if this is done in case the creditor is a single individual, the State can afford it. He went on to say that requiring the heirs to continue paying the loan once the borrower dies unless the creditor decides to give up his money is not only in line with the Islamic Sharia but also most laws in Europe, America and different parts of the world.

MP Saleh Ashour argued many countries grant one month additional pension for retirees every year but this is not done in Kuwait. Now, there is a bill which stipulates more privileges for retirees, he asserted. MP Salah Khurshid voiced objection to the proposed average six percent interest to be collected by the retirees as the investment funds managed by PIFSS bring only 3.5 percent gains

By Saeed Mahmoud Saleh Arab Times Staff

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