x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Fresh crisis for new parliament

Kuwait's MPs collected enough signatures yesterday for a vote of no-confidence in the minister of the interior, Sheikh Jaber al Khaled al Sabah.

KUWAIT CITY // Kuwait's MPs collected enough signatures yesterday for a vote of no-confidence in the minister of the interior, Sheikh Jaber al Khaled al Sabah, plunging the one-month old session of the National Assembly into another crisis. Sheikh Jaber is a senior royal and the royal family has never allowed an al Sabah to face a vote of no-confidence before. In the past, the prime minister, Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al Ahmad al Sabah, has employed tactics such as shifting the minister to a different post to avoid the vote. MPs of Kuwait's 50-member parliament collected the 10 required signatures after questioning the minister in front of a packed National Assembly. Musallam al Barrak, who collected more votes than any other MP in the recent election, led the attack. Mr al Barrak accused Sheikh Jaber of trying to spy on MPs by ordering the installation of hi-tech cameras outside the parliament and failing to stop vote-buying in the May election. He also charged him with squandering public funds by awarding a 5 million Kuwaiti dinar (Dh64m) contract to a company to erect election advertisements. Mr al Barrak accused Sheikh Jaber of breaking the law by not following the correct procedure in handing out the contract and said the cost of the steel and plastic advertisements were hugely overblown. "It seems the advertisements are made of gold," he said. "The only government that turns steel into gold is Kuwait." The populist MP said he is "interpellating the minister for wasting public funds and smearing democracy". Sheikh Jaber said the questioning was due to a personal vendetta and accused the MP of damaging the relationship between the government and the parliament. "It seems the honorable MP is trying to make a rift in our society," he said. He also said of the two interpellation's points were unconstitutional because a minister cannot be held responsible for events that occurred before he entered the ministry. Mr al Barrak's initial speech lasted 90 minutes, and Sheikh Jaber had an equal amount of time to defend himself. Then both men had 15 minutes for final remarks. Six MPs were given the opportunity to speak, three in favour of the motion and three against it. MP Ali Daqbaashi, who was for the motion, said "it is an issue of corruption". He said the value of the contracts was not the most important issue, but that the future of the country was at stake. "We cannot hide our head in the sand like an ostrich," he said. "We will protect out institutions." One of Kuwait's four new female MPs, Salwa al Jassar, spoke against the motion, and was critical of the speed with which Mr Barrak had moved against the minister. "This is unacceptable timing," she said. "There are issues that are more critical than this one ? if you want corruption, corruption is everywhere." After the speeches, 10 MPs filed a no-confidence motion against the minister, and the speaker set next Wednesday as the date of the vote. Kuwaitis crammed into the viewing galleries greeted the news with rapturous applause. Interpellations are a regular event in Kuwait's national assembly because any MP has the right to question any minister. The constitution permits the prime minister, who is a senior royal, to face questions from the parliament, but the emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, has always intervened to prevent his nephew, Sheikh Nasser, who is a candidate to become a future emir, from being criticised by the MPs. Royals who are ministers do not get the same protection as Sheikh Nasser. Forty-nine MPs who are not members of the cabinet will be allowed to vote in the no confidence motion, and 25 votes will be needed for it to pass, regardless of how many MPs attend the session. If the vote is passed, the minister is dismissed, but this has never happened in Kuwait before. In the past, the motions have failed to pass or the minister has resigned before the vote. On other occasions, the cabinet has resigned or the prime minister has reshuffled the cabinet to avoid the no confidence motions. jcalderwood@thenational.ae