x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

MPs in Kuwait accept ruler's criticism of poor performance but blame government

Members of parliament respond to scathing criticism from the emir who accused them of wasting time on issues not related to development.

Sheikh Sabah al Jaber al Ahmed al Sabah has dissolved the parliament and called for elections three times since 2006.
Sheikh Sabah al Jaber al Ahmed al Sabah has dissolved the parliament and called for elections three times since 2006.

KUWAIT CITY // Members of parliament yesterday responded to scathing criticism from the emir who accused them of wasting time on issues not related to development. Speaking to reporters after a regular session in parliament, the MPs largely accepted the remarks Sheikh Sabah al Jaber al Ahmed al Sabah made in an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung that was published by the state news agency, Kuna, on Monday. The emir, who made the remarks during a state visit to Europe, said: "The parliament has disappointed the Kuwaiti people by missing a precious chance and wasting a long time on the discussion of questions that have nothing to do whatsoever with development projects."

Criticising the emir is a red line that is not crossed in Kuwait, so parliamentarians chose their words carefully. They all agreed with his comments and many added that the government was also to blame for the poor performance of the National Assembly. One tribal MP, Saifi al Saifi, said: "We must take the emir's statement into serious consideration. It is the cabinet that is to blame for democratic failure, especially as the MPs are more supportive of the cabinet than the cabinet is of itself."

Another MP, Salwa al Jassar, said a "certain number" of MPs are to blame for the assembly's failings, and citizens must also be aware of their responsibilities in holding those responsible to account. Waleed al Tabtabae, an Islamist MP who often opposes the government and has in the past presented motions to question the prime minister that led to the dissolution of the parliament, said he supported a constitutional amendment that would mean cabinet members are appointed by parliament.

The emir had told the newspaper that parliament had wasted time on "fruitless political deliberations" and blamed this on the combination of parliamentary and presidential systems in the Kuwaiti constitution. The parliament has been beset by problems since the prime minister, Sheikh Nasser al Mohammed al Ahmed al Sabah, was first appointed in February 2006. The emir has dissolved the parliament and called for elections three times since then, and the prime minister has headed six cabinets.

The institution has been running smoother since the last election in May, largely because the prime minister removed one of the major sticking points by facing MPs in a closed-door parliamentary questioning, but the National Assembly is still failing to pass laws as quickly as it had hoped. Hasan Johar, an MP, recently estimated that the country's representatives had dealt with "five or six" of a list of more than 30 priorities that were agreed at the beginning of the current term in October.

Since last year's election, MPs have questioned ministers six times and parliament has voted in favour of bills that the government has opposed, including one to pay the interest on consumer loans for thousands of indebted citizens. Ministers have been put on the podium for a variety of issues including not taking action against a television programme that hurt national unity, installing cameras outside the assembly buildings for spying, and issuing a large cheque to a former MP. Islamists have also attempted to interpellate the prime minister for religious reasons. Some Kuwaitis believe the parliamentarians have attacked ministers because of vendettas, and this was the case when the minister of the interior, Sheikh Jaber al Khaled al Sabah, was questioned by tribal MPs last year for clamping down on illegal tribal primaries before the elections. The questioning led to an unprecedented vote of no confidence against a royal, which he survived comfortably.

The emir was in Germany yesterday and will visit the Vatican and Italy before returning to Kuwait. @Email:jcalderwood@thenational.ae