KUWAIT CITY (AFP) – Kuwait’s emir on Tuesday opened the new parliamentary term by urging constructive cooperation between the government and MPs, whose disputes have stalled development in the wealthy Gulf state.
“Constructive and positive cooperation between the legislature and executive authorities is inevitable for achieving a fruitful partnership,” Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah said.
Political wrangling between MPs and the government has taken the blame for delays in major projects and has led the ruler of the oil-rich emirate to dissolve parliament three times since May 2006.
The disputes have also forced Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah, a nephew of the emir, to carry out five cabinet reshuffles since he took up the post in February 2006.
Ahead of the term, MPs have threatened to grill the prime minister and a number of his cabinet over an array of issues, including allegations of failure to implement political and economic reforms.
Although the government has submitted a five-year plan for the first time since 1985 and a programme to spend about 63 billion dollars on key projects over the next four years, analysts predict the political turmoil will continue.
Deputy premier for economic affairs Sheikh Ahmad Fahad al-Sabah told reporters outside parliament the five-year plan envisages spending between 122 billion and 140 billion dollars on mega projects.
The main flashpoint is expected to be a move by MPs calling for the government to purchase from banks about 22 billion dollars in personal loans taken by citizens and to reschedule the payments without interest.
MPs plan to debate the issue on November 17. The government has so far strongly rejected the idea and has instead offered to help defaulters via a 1.75-billion-dollar fund set up earlier this year.
“The government insists that the consumer loans issue will be dealt with only through the defaulters’ fund,” Sheikh Ahmad told reporters.
Finance Minister Mustafa al-Shamali told Al-Dar newspaper on Tuesday that the government has decided to increase the fund’s capital to 2.6 billion dollars to cover more defaulters.
Al-Shall Economic Consultants said in a report on Sunday that MPs have submitted more than 30 draft laws calling for additional spending to raise wages or purchase debt, at a cost of “billions of dinars.”
Parliament speaker Jassem al-Khorafi said political disputes in Kuwait have become a “cause for concern” and despite “changing several governments and parliaments, our projects remained at a standstill.”
Khorafi held both the government and parliament responsible for the stalemate.
Kuwait, OPEC’s fourth-largest producer, has posted a budget surplus in each of the past 10 fiscal years, amassing assets estimated at 230 billion dollars, but has failed to implement any major development project in the past decade.
The Gulf state sits on about 10 percent of proven global oil reserves. It has a native population of 1.1 million, besides 2.34 million foreign residents. It currently pumps around 2.2 million barrels per day.