Excessive Leave Cash Controversy Sparks Demand for Thorough Inquiry

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KUWAIT CITY, Feb 1: The parliamentary Budgets and Final Accounts Committee has urged all government agencies – each within its jurisdiction – to conduct an internal investigation into anyone who caused imbalances identified by the State Audit Bureau (SAB) during the implementation of the provision of Article 41 of the decree issued on April 4, 1979 regarding the civil service system and its amendments to allow employees to convert their unused leave days into cash while they are still in service.

The committee asked each government agency to submit the investigation results to SAB within three months, which will be used as basis for the follow-up report that will be submitted to the National Assembly along with the final account of the State administration for fiscal 2023/2024. Committee Chairman MP Adel Al-Damkhi stated in an incoming letter that he sent to the Assembly: “The legislative authority assigned SAB to review the encashment of unused leave days of civilian and military personnel in the public sector.

The committee asked the Assembly to take this step after it became clear during its discussion of the draft law on linking the budgets of ministries and government departments for fiscal 2023/2024 that the Ministry of Finance requested the inclusion of new financial appropriations for the project mentioned in Chapter One for Expenditures (Workers’ Compensation) to cover the overspending on the implementation of Article 41 of the decree issued on April 4, 1979. SAB submitted its report on Nov 29, 2023; revealing that the expenditure for leave encashment reached KD422,477,072 — more than the KD300 million budget allocated for this purpose. This is a violation of Article 147 of the Constitution, stating ‘in no case may the maximum estimate of expenditure, included in the budget law or the laws amending it, be exceeded.’”

Inconsistency
He went on to say that “other results became clear for SAB, the most important of which is the rise in the risk index in all government agencies in terms of inconsistency in decisions and systems for accruing, granting and settling leaves; weak oversight of leave systems and their accrual; failure to deduct them regularly, which led to the accumulation of days due to some employees and replacing them without auditing or reviewing them; weak internal control in following up the employees’ commitment to work and their absence at work; lack of control over the extent of employees’ commitment to the attendance system; exempting others from proving attendance in accordance with regulatory decisions; exaggeration in the value of comprehensive salaries in the statements in a way that does not reflect the actual salary as it was found that some employees whose actual salaries are less than what is listed on the statements; and temporary contract employees (non-Kuwaitis) were included in the decision to disburse cash for unused leave days.”

He added the committee attached in its letter a summary of the results and recommendations of SAB, as well as the obstacles it faced during the completion of its task; so that the Assembly will take them into consideration. Meanwhile, MP Badr Nashmi Al-Anzi has submitted a proposal to specify the same vacation period for schools, institutes, colleges and universities in the public and private sectors. He explained that his proposal is aimed at giving families a chance to spend their vacation with all members of the family.

On the other hand, Deputy National Assembly Speaker Muhammad Al-Mutair forwarded queries to Minister of Justice, Endowments and Islamic Affairs Faisal Saeed Al-Ghareeb about the measures taken regarding lawsuit number 1899/2022 filed at the Capital, how the case started, how the investigations progressed, who are involved in the case, if this is related to the judges bribery case, number and nationalities of judges suspected of involvement in the case, if the term of any of these judges was renewed or if they were terminated in case they are non-Kuwaitis, number of judges whose judiciary immunity was requested to be lifted because of their involvement in the case, if their immunity was lifted, when it was lifted if the answer is ‘yes’, reasons for not lifting the immunity if the answer is ‘no’, and if any of the senior officials tasked to conduct investigations are related to any of the judges implicated in the case.

MP Muhammad Al-Mahan asked Minister of Health Dr Ahmed Al-Awadhi if his ministry has a plan to open dialysis centers in the southern residential areas. If yes, he requested for a copy of the plan, including the current number of patients who need dialysis. He also inquired if the necessary medical teams and equipment are available to operate these dialysis centers, if it is true that the donation of Sabah Al-Ahmad Cooperative Society has been allocated for the establishment of a dialysis center in Sabah Al-Ahmad, and if there is a plan to establish specialized clinics in the South including Sabah Al-Ahmad, Wafra, Khiran and Ali Sabah Al-Salim. If yes, he requested for a copy of the plan. He wants to know the number of suspended or out-of-service clinics in these residential areas, reasons for suspending the establishment of X-Ray units in Khiran and Wafra, and if there is shortage of medical staff in the southern areas.

Al-Mahan also asked Minister of Public Works and State Minister for Municipal Affairs Noura Muhammad Al-Masha’an about the contracting company tasked to put street tiles in Wafra, copy of the contract, if there are variation orders, if the contractor is committed to the schedule for completing the project, if the teams tasked to follow up the project have recorded violations of the contracting company, and penalties imposed if the answer is ‘yes’.

MP Abdulkareem Al-Kandari forwarded queries to Minister of Electricity, Water and Renewable Energy and State Minister for Housing Affairs Salem Falah Al-Hajraf about the number of housing plots qualified for housing loans in the budget for fiscal 2023/2024, budget allocated for this purpose, number of plots whose owners already obtained housing loans from Kuwait Credit Bank (KCB), total amount of granted loans so far, factors leading to the increase or decrease of the actual budget for housing loans compared to the estimated budget in fiscal 2023/2024, impact of such developments on the construction of houses, if KCB received the total capital from Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) as per law number 1/2022, and measures that KCB took if the answer is ‘no’. Moreover, the Ministry of Finance confirmed that “the presence or absence of approvals from Kuwait Municipality, the Municipal Council and the service ministries will not change the fact that the Sabah Al-Ahmad Marine City contract is not subject to prior oversight provisions as it is an implementation of the terms of the original contract, and is subject to subsequent rather than prior oversight by SAB.

This is a confirmation of the contents of a letter dated Jan 9, 2023 from the Legal Advice and Legislation Department. In response to the question of MP Mubarak Al-Hajraf, the ministry disclosed it had a correspondence with SAB regarding the Sabah Al-Ahmad Marine City, which began with the approval of SAB issued in July 2002 — approving all terms and materials of the contract that regulate the implementation of the two phases of the project (phases A and B). It confirmed receiving a letter from SAB dated Oct 4, 2023 canceling letter number (1/1/22) S (23) dated Jan 9, 2023 which stated:“the implementation of the terms of the original contract is not subject to the prior oversight provisions.” None of these letters mentioned the cancellation of the previous approval of SAB issued on July 27, 2002. The ministry responded to SAB’s letter saying, “what prompted SAB to send its letter dated Jan 9, 2023 is the data contained in the Ministry of Finance’s letter dated Dec 25, 2022, in which it was stated that 9,197,117 square meters remaining for the company in the second phase had not been delivered to it, and there are approvals from the Municipality, Municipal Council and other service ministries. This statement contradicts the reports of the regulatory authorities regarding the result reached by SAB in its letter dated Jan 9, 2023 stating that: “The subject of the research is the implementation of the terms of the original contract mentioned above and is not subject to the provisions of its prior supervision, and accordingly it will continue with subsequent supervision and follow-up of the audit of the subject.”

According to the ministry, the value of the plots sold was determined according to the price per square meter mentioned in the contract, and the company committed to the price specified in the sale of the plots of the first phase in five batches (A1-A2-A3-A4-A5). The ministry stressed that the concerned authorities in the government have fulfilled all their contractual obligations in the Sabah Al-Ahmad Marine City project, and there is no difference between the first phase and the second phase, as the same uses have been approved for the two phases. It added that the implementation the project is in accordance with the conditions and obligations contained in the contract concluded with the company, including the requirements in each phase. Furthermore, Assembly Speaker Ahmed Al-Saadoun recently met with Chairman of Kuwait Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha) Abdulaziz Abdullatif Al-Ibrahim who submitted the semi-annual report of the authority to the speaker.

In another development, MP Jenan Bushehri attended the online regional forum organized by the International Parliaments Union (IPU) recently, in collaboration with a number of concerned global organizations that are keen on expediting the economic empowerment of women. During the forum, Bushehri talked about the challenges in the economic empowerment of women, indicating the challenges vary from one country to another. She disclosed the major challenges include the educational and professional gap between women and men in some countries. She said the share of women in education and professional programs is lower than that of men, which negatively affects the opportunities for women in the labor market. She added that women also face difficulties like the higher rate of unemployment and differences in salaries compared to their male colleagues, as well as the difficulty of occupying leading positions and to be part of decision-making. She revealed that women usually encounter problems in obtaining loans for opening or expanding their business due to bureaucracy and discriminatory legislation that make it too difficult for women to find financing entities.

She stated the cultural and social customs have a negative impact on the economic role of women in society, taking into consideration the traditional view about the roles of men and women. She affirmed the laws in Kuwait have contributed to enhancing the economic role of women, but more laws are still needed to push women toward achieving economic progress. She said the economic empowerment of women in Arab countries requires addressing the abovementioned challenges by adopting integrated strategies, effective support programs, assessment and revision of relevant legislation, exchanging experiences, benefitting from the successful models in some advanced countries, and correcting the wrong social and cultural concepts on the role of women.

By Saeed Mahmoud Saleh and Raed Youssef
Al-Seyassah/Arab Times Staff

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