Budget nod delayed for panel review, comment

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KUWAIT CITY, Oct 25: The National Assembly held a special session on Tuesday to discuss and approve the State budget for fiscal 2022/2023 as per the request of the government. However, most of the MPs expressed objection to the approval of the budget in one session and without extensive discussion. The Assembly then approved the request of the majority of MPs to return the report on the State budget to the parliamentary Budgets and Final Accounts for further discussion.

Speaker of Parliament Ahmad Abdulaziz Al-Saadoun during Tuesday’s parliamentary session

An agreement has been reached to vote on the budget on Tuesday, Nov 1, 2022. During the session, Minister of Finance Abdulwahab Al-Rashead conducted a presentation on the budget; affirming the commitment of the government to provide the budget for the encashment of the unused leave days of public sector workers and disbursement of the incentive for workers on the frontline of the fight against Coronavirus. He clarified that the incentive had earlier been paid to the frontliners in 55 public institutions at a total cost of KD450 million and only eight institutions have yet to disburse the incentive.

Assembly Speaker Ahmed Al-Saadoun affirmed that the report will be returned to the relevant committee for further discussion and the latter will receive the MPs’ comments in the coming days. State Minister for National Assembly Affairs Ammar Al-Ajmi confirmed the government is keen on taking into consideration the comments of the MPs, stressing the executive authority will discuss these comments thoroughly with the parliamentary Budgets and Final Accounts Committee. Chairman of the parliamentary Budgets and Final Accounts Committee MP Adel Al-Damkhi clarified they are willing to discuss the budget again to include the MPs’ comments. He disclosed the State budget is KD23 billion, with oil revenues constituting 91 percent of the budget as per the estimated price of oil — $80 per barrel — and production of two million barrels per day.

He also explained that the delayed disbursement of the frontliners incentive for the remaining beneficiaries is due to the change in the job titles of some of them. He pointed out the nation is currently facing big challenges in terms of its budget due to international circumstances, which necessitate caution in drafting the budget in the interest of citizens. MP Mubarak Al-Tasha wondered how can they approve the budget if the frontliners incentive is not included. MP Alia Al-Khalid asserted it is true that the approval of the State budget has been delayed for a long time, but this is due to the attitude of the previous government. She then urged the current government to present its work plan and find a constitutional solution to the delayed approval of the budget.

MP Hamdan Al-Azmi stressed it is not possible to approve the current budget, because it includes KD68 million for furnishing the new building of the Expropriation Department at the Ministry of Finance. Minister of Finance Abdulwahab Al- Rashead responded, stating the amount allocated for this purpose is only KD500,000; but Al-Azmi asked the minister to turn to page 83 of the report in which the amount stated is KD68 million. MP Osama Al-Shaheen emphasized the need to activate the role of the private sector, as the recruitment of citizens in private companies saves huge public money. He added there are 494,000 public sector workers who receive about KD1,500 monthly salary each; compared to 70,000 employees in the private sector whose average salary is KD750 every month.

MP Khalil Abdul inquired if this budget is in line with the latest global developments, particularly the possible eruption of World War lll. He suggested returning the report on the budget to the government for the latter to revise the first five months of fiscal 2022/2023 to guarantee food security. MP Hassan Jawhar argued it is unacceptable that the new government “inherits” the budget of its predecessor, considering it led to the dismissal of HH the former Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid. MP Abdulaziz Al-Saqaabi pointed out the budget is being discussed based on the principles adopted in the recent decade which are no longer valid. He highlighted the low revenue from renting State properties, which he considers wastage of public money.

MP Hamad Al-Matar has no intention to approve the budget unless it includes the frontliners incentive, indicating many employees in the 55 public institutions that paid the incentive earlier were treated unjustly like the Kuwait Airways pilots who were excluded even if they played a crucial role at the height of the corona crisis. MP Fares Al-Otaibi said the previous government did not fulfill its promise to include the frontliners incentive in the budget two years ago. He expressed concern that the current government will do the same with the leave encashment of public sector workers. MP Ahmed Lari praised the decision of the government not to issue a decree of necessity to approve the budget, emphasizing this is a good sign as it means the government is serious in cooperating with the Assembly. He added the current State budget is not linked with certain goals or strategies.

MP Soud Al-Asfour pointed out the previous government drafted the budget and the finance minister has yet to confirm if it is in line with the work program of the incumbent government. MP Faisal Al-Kandari revealed that copies of the report were distributed to the MPs only one day before the session, stressing he cannot approve a budget amounting to KD23 billion without reading it carefully. He added the finance minister did not clarify whether the government will “buy” all the unused leave days of public sector workers or just a certain percentage. MP Jenan Bu Shehri asked if this budget refl ects the program of the new government or its predecessor. She said KD30 million was allocated for housing projects in South Saad Al-Abdullah without detailing the items covered by such amount. MP Muhannad Al-Sayer pointed out the State budget cannot be approved within a few hours, asserting that rushing things is not part of cooperation between the legislative and executive authorities. MP Abdulwahab Al-Essa believes the current budget does not indicate that the government will fulfill its promises, warning the budget deficit will reach KD4 billion if the price of oil does not increase as estimated. By Saeed Mahmoud Saleh Arab Times Staff

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