Kuwait has launched a probe into a suspected scam involving 5,324 families accused of faking documents to obtain government social security payments, a minister said on Tuesday.
Social Affairs and Labour Minister Hind al-Sabeeh told the official KUNA news agency that millions of dollars in public funds were illegally taken by these families on the basis of false claims.
The families number around 52,000 people in a country with 1.3 million native citizens. The minister said payments were made to 1,479 Kuwaiti women who claimed to be single but were later found to be married.
There were another 1,283 cases of Kuwaiti women claiming they were married to stateless people but were found to be married to Kuwaiti citizens, she said.
The oil-rich Gulf country, which has a generous welfare system, spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on social aid to low-income families.
But since the sharp decline in the price of oil, its main source of income, the emirate has begun applying austerity measures aimed at cutting spending and raising non-oil income.
The minister said legal measures will be taken against both the families suspected of making false claims and any ministry employees who facilitated the scam.
Meanwhile, Kuwait's lower court on Tuesday sentenced 30 female nationals to one year in jail for illegally taking wages from a government programme aiming at encouraging citizens to take private sector jobs.
The court said the women took salaries from the national labour support programme for two years after registering as employees at a private firm but without actually working.
The court also handed the employer a one-year sentence and ordered all of the women to return the money they took from the programme in addition to fining them $3,300 each. The sentence is not final as it can be challenged.
Around 80 percent of Kuwait's national workforce of 360,000 is employed by the government which offers higher pay and fewer working hours.
Under the national labour support programme, the government pays a monthly salary to all Kuwaitis who take up jobs in the private sector. The state spends more than $700 million a year on the scheme.