Commerce minister survives grilling motion

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY GREENLIGHTS MINIMUM RETIREMENT PENSION HIKE

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KUWAIT CITY, Nov 14: Minister of Commerce and Industry and State Minister for Youth Affairs Muhammad Al-Aiban has survived the parliamentary grilling as the motion filed by MP Hamdan Al-Azmi failed to obtain the required 10 votes at the ordinary session of the National Assembly on Tuesday. The grilling motion focused on the following points:
■ Conflict of interests, abuse of power to cover fraud;
■ Negligence and endangering national security;
■ Administrative and financial violations, and squandering of public funds;
■ Misleading the State Audit Bureau (SAB) and dodging responsibility;
■ Mismanagement of the National Fund for Small and Medium Enterprises and failure to address the financial problems of some beneficiaries of the fund;
■ Failure to regulate prices and granting privileges to traders at the expense of citizens’ interests.

Minister of Commerce and Industry and State Minister for Youth Affairs Muhammad Al-Aiban

During the session, Al-Azmi presented details of the case that Boursa Kuwait filed against 10 individuals including the minister who was accused of fraud and illegally obtaining profits through his private company. He said Al-Aiban took advantage of his ministerial position to avoid the accusations hurled at him. He added that Al-Aiban endangered national security through the accumulation of trucks transporting flammable substances at Shuwaikh Port, stressing these substances could explode at any time due to the high temperature. He warned this could lead to a catastrophe like the incident at Beirut Port in Lebanon. He stated that several trucks transporting small rocks are allowed to leave the ports and enter the local market without inspection, which could pave the way to the smuggling of drugs and weapons. He also criticized the appointment of the chairman of the Kuwait General Administration of Customs (KGAC) although the latter has nothing to do with KGAC and did not advance his career in the field, considering he worked in the private sector most of the time. He accused the minister of trying to deceive the citizens by pretending to be pro-form through the withdrawal of industrial plots from tenants. He argued this is a regular procedure followed by the minister’s predecessors.

He added the Public Authority for Industry Law states that the tenants whose plots were withdrawn have the right to complain and then reclaim their plots or address the violations. He went on to say that the minister appointed consultants from other ministries, citing as an example a consultant from the Ministry of Finance and another who used to work as the driver of a senior official. He revealed an employee from the Public Authority for Civil Information (PACI) was appointed as manager of the Office of the Minister of Commerce and Industry. He pointed out that such appointments burden the public fund. He said Al-Aiban violated the Civil Service Commission (CSC) regulation banning the secondment of employees. He revealed the minister obtained exceptions for certain individuals to be appointed as officials even if they did not meet the conditions. On regulating the prices, Al-Hamdan asserted everyone feels the seasonal hike in the prices of various commodities; stating that fish prices usually increase in summer, school supplies at the beginning of every academic year, and meat during Eid holidays. Meanwhile, Al-Aiban stated that the motion consisted of fallacies and wrong information; stressing Al-Azmi went beyond the law, Constitution, and traditions when he described him as a thief and a swindler. He pointed out the lawmaker alleged that the salary of a consultant is KD 6,000 per month; emphasizing this is absolutely wrong. He urged the lawmaker to prove his allegations, including the supposed appointment of a driver as a consultant.

He clarified that the consultant he appointed was an official at PACI, while the one from the Ministry of Finance served as a consultant at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry only after resigning from his previous job. He added that he asked the CSC to reduce this consultant’s salary — lower than his salary at the Ministry of Finance. He affirmed all the consultants in his ministry are dedicated Kuwaitis who are highly qualified in the field of combating corruption. On the increasing number of trucks transporting flammable substances at Shuwaikh Port, the minister pointed out this is the result of the hard work of KGAC employees who are keen on preventing the smuggling of diesel. He disclosed the number of trucks at the port has increased from 120 to 470, indicating he asked Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) to address the issue. About the accusation that he disrupted meetings of the Board of Directors of the Public Authority for Industry, Al-Aiban said the regulations state that four meetings per year are enough; yet he had eight meetings in the first quarter of 2023 alone.

In misleading SAB, he asserted that all the grilling points were based on the reports of SAB before he assumed office; so it seems Al-Azmi tried to grill another minister. He explained there is a big difference between recording violations and comments; as the latter are open for discussion, correspondence, and exchange of information.

On the mismanagement of the National Fund for Small and Medium Enterprises, he disclosed that he issued a directive to postpone the collection of loan installments from beneficiaries facing financial difficulties, and formed a committee tasked to study the high-risk enterprises to stop the fund from approving them and look for safer and more profitable projects in the interest of the beneficiaries and the public treasury. He added it is unacceptable to be questioned about issues that the fund has been facing in the last 10 years as he assumed office only six months ago.

Regarding the failure to regulate prices, Al-Aiban asserted all the accusations in this regard are baseless. He pointed out that the number of citations issued against traders proven to have committed violations and the number of establishments that were closed due to unjustified price hikes are much higher than the figures recorded last year; confirming some of those who committed violations were referred to the Public Prosecution. He revealed the revenues of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in the first half of 2023 reached KD4 million — higher than the previous year.

Then, Assembly Speaker Ahmed Al- Saadoun allowed one MP to speak in support of the grilling motion and another in support of the minister. MP Khalid Al-Tamar, who supports the grilling motion, said the citizens have been complaining about the unjustified price hikes, which negatively affected families. He argued the minister is obligated to issue decisions and follow up on the implementation, warning that the pension and salary increments might lead to a remarkable increase in prices. MP Badr Al-Mullah, who spoke in support of the minister, clarified that he supported the previous grilling motions of Al-Azmi; but this time, he is against the motion. He pointed out that as an eyewitness, he confirmed the minister was referred to the Public Prosecution when Boursa Kuwait filed a case after his ministerial appointment. “In April 2023, Al-Aiban assumed office and decided to reform Boursa Kuwait in May 2023. In June 2023, Boursa Kuwait reported him to the prosecution for accusations related to his work in a private company 10 years ago.

The fact that Boursa Kuwait took such a step only after all those years means it is due to the minister’s reform decision,” the lawmaker added. Speaking about the diesel trucks in his capacity as former Minister of Oil, Al- Mullah revealed the KGAC employees complained about the accumulation of trucks transporting flammable substances. He emphasized the need for HH Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah to interfere in order to address the issue, protect the ministers, and support their decisions. He added that during his term as oil minister, he received many requests from individuals to establish thinner factories and he found out that they purchased subsidized kerosene to sell the product to Jabal Ali or Jordan at international prices. He said this harms the public treasury; as certain individuals earn very high profits by purchasing a shipment of kerosene for KD 60,000 and then selling it for KD250,000 the following month without exerting any effort.

After this, Al-Saadoun announced that he did not receive any no-confidence motion; so he decided to tackle other items in the agenda. The National Assembly approved Tuesday in its first deliberation, the amendment to Article 19 of the Amiri Decree 61 (1976) issuing the Social Security Law regarding increasing the minimum retirement pension. Finance Minister Fahad Al-Jarallah confirmed Tuesday that based on the directives of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, and the decision of the Council of Ministers, the minimum pensions will be increased.

This came in Al-Jarallah’s remarks after the National Assembly’s regular session to discuss the report of the Parliamentary Financial and Economic Affairs Committee. This law works to improve living standards, starting with the segment of retirees who have the minimum pension, in accordance with the government parliamentary consensus, he said. This law will not affect the continued disbursement of the annual increase of KD 20, he said, pointing out the government’s keenness to complete its studies connected to improving the lives of citizens before the end of this year and referring them to the Parliamentary Financial and Economic Committee.

He underlined the government’s endeavor to achieve justice and equality for retirees, and one of the foundations of that justice is not to increase one segment and leave another segment. National Assembly Speaker Ahmad Al- Saadoun announced Tuesday parliament’s approval of amending article (19) of the Amiri order (61) for the year 1976 regarding social insurance, to raise the minimum pension wage. The amendment was agreed upon by all 63 attendants of the ordinary session, in both first and second deliberations and was referred to the government.

The national assembly’s session had moved on to discuss the financial and economic parliamentary committee report on amendments proposed by the government on social insurance law. The first article stipulated that the minimum pension wage for those supporting seven children and more is KD 1,615. The second article specified raising retirement wages to a minimum of KD 1,000 or a 10 percent increase as those with a previous salary near KD 1,000 would not stand to benefit from the amendment as much as those with lesser salaries thus prompting the addition of the 10 percent clause. As for retirees with wages between KD 1,000 and maximum wage, the amendment grants them a five percent increase, to ensure gain to all pensioners. By Saeed Mahmoud Saleh Al-Seyassah/Arab Times Staff and Agencies

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