Kuwait emir urges MPs, gov’t to cooperate

KUWAIT (AFP) — The emir of Kuwait Monday urged MPs and the government to cooperate in fighting corruption as he opened the new term of parliament where the opposition has gained control following June elections.

“I urge the two authorities, legislative and executive, to put into reality the desires of cooperation…and to agree on national priorities,” Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah told the assembly.

He added: “We must reinforce among everyone the principle of respect for the law … With such a commitment we can battle corruption.” The opposition has the support of 34 MPs in the house, which has 50 elected members in addition to 15 unelected ministers. Opposition lawmakers have claimed that corruption is rampant in the oil-rich state and that the government has failed to stop it.

The new parliament, elected at the end of June, reflects a new balance, with the opposition, comprising three blocs of Islamists, nationalists and liberals, united in an alliance pledging to combat corruption and press for economic reform.

The emir also called for “appropriate” use of the Gulf state’s huge financial resources for the benefit of the people, especially in developing public services and the infrastructure.

Kuwait, which sits on about 10 per cent of global oil reserves, has accumulated huge financial assets of more than $166 billion, mainly due to high oil prices.

It has posted a budget surplus of around $54 billion in the past seven fiscal years, and is forecast to post a 20-billion-dollar surplus in the current fiscal year ending next March.

Kuwait has a native population of just one million people, but also has two million foreign residents.

The emirate has been criticised for slow-paced implementation of development projects.

Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al Ahmad Al Sabah said his government wants to build a “relationship based on mutual trust” with parliament in order to resolve repeated political crises between the two bodies.

The previous parliament was dissolved in May one year ahead of time as a result of a crisis between MPs and the government on draft legislation calling to slash the number of electoral constituencies.

Following the impressive triumph of the opposition, parliament in July passed a law to reduce the constituencies from 25 to five, which was a key opposition demand in the general elections. Sheikh Nasser also promised that his government would take “effective measures to safeguard public funds … and to combat all forms of corruption.” He presented highlights of an ambitious government economic programme for the coming four years which envisages the building of several major public hospitals, a huge power plant, a railway a harbour and other projects.

In total, the government plans to carry out about 700 projects costing some $68 billion.

The opposition alliance went into action immediately after the opening ceremony by proposing 12 draft laws it said were necessary to combat corruption and speed up key projects.

They include legislation that provides protection to prevent the sale of public property at low prices and another requiring senior government officials and MPs to disclose their wealth before and after assuming their posts.

The new term is expected to witness some wrangling, as several MPs have vowed to quiz ministers — notably liberal Information Minister Mohammad Al Sanoussi, who is a target for Islamist and nationalist MPs.

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