THE French philosopher and orientalist Constantin François de Volney wrote about his trip to Syria and Egypt in the 18th century, describing the critical economic conditions in Damascus due to lack of resources and funds.
To tackle this situation, its governor As’ad Pasha Al-Azm gathered his advisors to discuss the best way for generating revenues that would better the economic conditions of Damascus.
His advisors proposed imposing tax on Christians and small traders. After the governor inquired about the expected returns of such a measure, he was told it will bring about fifty to sixty bags of gold.
As’ad Pasha sympathized with the targeted group, and wondered how they will manage to pay the taxes when their earnings are low and limited.
He instead told his advisors that he has a better way of generating the needed money, but he did not reveal to them about his plan.
The next day, he secretly summoned the state mufti. When he arrived at the palace, As’ad Pasha said, “We have received news that you have been misbehaving for a long time in your home, drinking alcohol, and violating the law.”
The mufti trembled in fear, and begged the governor, offering him large sums of money in exchange for concealing his shortcomings. The mufti offered 1,000 pieces of gold, but As’ad Pasha refused. The mufti then offered more and more until it reached 6,000 pieces of gold, and finally the governor agreed.
He summoned the judge next and told him that there is documented information about his bribery, exploitation and betrayal of the trust, as he collected money illegally.
The judge opted to settle the matter quietly in exchange for paying a sum of money. The governor did the same to state officials and big business figures of both Muslim and Christian faiths. They all paid huge sums of money in exchange for their freedom.
After that, As’ad Pasha summoned his advisors and revealed to them that he had managed to collect 200 bags of gold, instead of the 50 that he was going to collect in the way the advisors had suggested.
With admiration, they asked, “How did you do this?”
The governor answered them with his well-known eternal anecdote, “Shearing sheep’s wool is better than skinning lambs.”
In this story, there are indications of what the decision-making authority can do when corruption prevails, and when its ability to follow up people’s affairs and meet their needs weakens.
The aforementioned story is applicable in our land of Kuwait. Here, from time to time we encounter warnings of a salary crisis. The state appears to be like a camel in the desert dying of thirst while carrying water on its back.
In contrast, there is a massive looting of financial resources without anyone being apprehended for it. Meanwhile, the government goes on to open old files, such as suspension of projects, more restrictions on the people, and other proposals that do not differ in form and content from the proposal given to As’ad Pasha Al-Azm by his advisors.
About two years ago, the Minister of Finance used to come to us occasionally to address the issue of salaries, and the long talk about the budget deficit, which almost suggests that Kuwait is on the verge of drying up resources. This makes us wonder if it is true, or if there were ways and means to get out of the crisis.
All countries of the world have an arsenal of anti-corruption laws. There are countries in which the presidents of the republic or heads of government have been imprisoned on charges of profiteering or bribery at the expense of public money, while massive projects are implemented in those countries at about ten times less than our costs. This is due to the existence of conscience, sincerity, and also laws that do not compromise. There are no “scratch my back and I scratch yours” and “This is our son” policies, especially the policy prevalent in Kuwait – “Your uncle’s money is none of your business.”
As for the Gulf, there are several examples of containing looting and cuffing corrupt hands firmly without waiting for trials and advisors’ reports. No one is allowed to flee, which was what happened in Saudi Arabia in 2015 when King Salman bin Abdulaziz decided to launch a radical reform movement for the state and the “Vision 2030”.
He entrusted the matter to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who opted to open all files, and discovered that about ten percent or more of the state budget since 1980 have been going to the corrupt who over-price the state projects.
He also discovered that three billion meters of land had been unlawfully seized, the price of which reached trillions of riyals. He therefore ordered the gathering of the corrupt, including princes, merchants and contractors, at the Ritz Hotel in Riyadh, and worked on recovering about two hundred billion dollars from them, in addition to the land they acquired.
The same happened in Qatar, the UAE, and other Gulf countries where rulers sought to put an end to corruption that had exhausted the state and its institutions and damaged its reputation externally. On the other hand in Kuwait, the corrupt flew with their money abroad. Some selective measures were taken against a few of them but they were like palliatives. Moreover, those who had gained illegally from the projects were not punished.
Your Highness the Prime Minister, the executive authority has many constitutional and legal powers that qualify it to recover the looted funds. It also has the popular power to support any action it takes in this regard. It only has to make up its mind and take its decision to avoid becoming another Lebanon whose money was plundered by a mafia political class and the people there were made to suffer under a crisis that was unseen since 1850. This is what is happening in Iraq and Iran as well.
Therefore, I call on Your Highness to confront the crisis head-on, and avoid referring the matter to committees and advisors. Remember the words of the late British Prime Minister Churchill – “If the government wanted to bury a case, it referred it to the committees.”
Shearing sheep’s wool is better than skinning lambs, as illustrated from the story of As’ad Pasha Al-Azm. By Allah, you will be immortalized in the history of Kuwait, and indeed the Arab history.
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times