The Times Kuwait Report

A flurry of political activities marked the start of August. The month began with a decree by His HIghness the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah bestowing the title of ‘His Highness’ on prime minister designate, (Retd. Gen) Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. Later during the day, His Highness the Amir also announced another decree approving the formation of a new cabinet headed by His Highness the Prime Minister. The 12-member cabinet, comprising ministers from the previous cabinet as well as several new faces, then took the oath-of-office before His Highness the Amir.

On 2 August, which incidentally marked the somber anniversary of the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi troops in 1990, His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah issued a decree dissolving the National Assembly. The decree, which came on the heels of the announcement of a new cabinet, was promulgated by His Highness the Crown Prince based on the constitutional powers conferred on him through the Amiri decree of 15 November, 2021

Also, on 2 August, the newly formed cabinet, in its inaugural meeting held at the Seif Palace and chaired by His Highness the Prime Minister, thanked and expressed its gratitude to His Highness the Amir and His Highness the Crown Prince for the  trust bestowed on them to carry out their duties. In a statement issued following the cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Oil and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Mohammad Al-Fares stated that the premier in his address to the cabinet had underlined the need to implement the judicious directives given to them by His Highness the Amir and His Highness the Crown Prince.

Among others, the directives had called on the cabinet to redouble its efforts so as to speed up development, fulfill people’s expectations, respect the constitution and solve the challenges faced by citizens. It urged the cabinet to do its utmost to address the serious challenges that the nation faced, and offer high-quality services to the public, while wiping out corruption in all its forms, so as to push forward the country’s development process and safeguard its stability.

Additionally, on the 32nd anniversary of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the cabinet renewed its gratitude to the friendly countries who contributed to liberating the country and restoring its international legitimacy, sovereignty, freedom, and dignity. The cabinet also called on the Kuwaiti people, on this painful anniversary, “to preserve the security and stability of the homeland, to unite and boost cooperation in serving the country under the leadership of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

Serving the interests of the people and country through unity and cooperation between the executive and legislative wings of government, also formed the crux of a statement issued by His Highness the Crown Prince following the dissolution of the National Assembly. The statement noted that the decree to dissolve parliament was necessitated to “rectify the political scene, which has involved a lack of harmony and cooperation between the executive and legislative arms of government, as well as continued differences, conflicts, personal interests and failure to accept others, in addition to practices and behaviors that undermine the national unity.”

The statement by His Highness the Crown Prince added, “As such, it has become imperative to resort to the people who represent the destiny, extension, survival and existence of the country, so that they could rectify the path in a way that serves their supreme interests.” Kuwait’s Constitution mandates that, in the event of a dissolution of parliament, new elections should be held for a new Assembly within a period not exceeding two months from the date of dissolution. In light of this constitutional statute, the next general elections are now expected to take place by October.

In their comments on the evolving political environment in the country, several lawmakers from the dissolved parliament, while agreeing that the interests of the country and its people were tantamount, also said this would require a complete rethink on the part of the executive.  For his part, former MP Ahmad Al-Azemi described the current period as “a decisive phase in the history of Kuwait”, and added that achieving stability in Kuwait requires a new government that avoids the mistakes of the past.

Speaking in the same vein, former lawmaker Khaled Al-Otaibi said the next prime minister will inherit major challenges to reform what the previous government has damaged, while his colleague in the dissolved parliament, Abdullah Al-Turaiji, described the political events in Kuwait as “unprecedented”, saying they will impact the form and functioning of the next cabinet. Also adding his voice to the discussion, former liberal MP Saleh Al-Mulla warned that the main thing for the new cabinet was to abandon the old-style of appointing ministers.

To recap on the events that led to the formation of a new government, it is worth noting that the former Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah, who had been in power since December 2019, submitted his government’s resignation in early April of this year after 26 opposition MPs — two more than the quorum needed — declared their intention to support a non-cooperation motion filed against the premier by opposition MPs, following a parliamentary grilling over alleged government mismanagement.

The premier’s resignation had then been accepted by His Highness the Amir, who then asked Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled to continue as a care-taker prime minister until a new premier was named. Last month, His Highness the Amir in a speech, given on his behalf by His Highness the Crown Prince, said he had decided to dissolve the National Assembly, a key demand by the opposition, and call for fresh polls “within months”.

The opposition in parliament had welcomed the Amiri speech delivered by the Crown Prince, and urged the leadership to appoint a new prime minister to introduce fundamental changes, and to reform the way the government had been operating. With the opposition’s suggestions on dissolving parliament and a new premier having now been met, it remains to be seen whether political reconciliation and cooperation between the executive and legislative arms of government will come to pass in the weeks and months ahead.

Unlike most other countries in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) bloc, Kuwait has an elected parliament, to which citizens elect representatives through a general election process that is largely deemed to be open, free and fair. The country’s constitution also grants its parliamentarians more leeway than other states, by providing lawmakers with complete oversight on government workings, the right to question ministers on perceived shortcomings, and even vote ministers out of office by passing a ‘no-confidence’ motion against them in parliament.

However, the powers and privileges granted to parliament and parliamentarians have resulted in Kuwait being beset by a state of political paralysis arising from consistent confrontation between an appointed government and an elected parliament. Parliamentary obstructions have also prevented the government from implementing many of its policies and enacting much-needed economic and administrative reforms.

Also, in sharp contrast to most other GCC that are more nimble and dynamic in adapting to challenges, and seizing economic and social opportunities that help catalyze their growth and development, Kuwait’s progress has remained stymied  by the contentious relations between the executive and legislative arms of government.

But Kuwait can no longer afford to continue with this status quo in political relations between the two arms of government in parliament. The current windfall in revenues from higher oil prices presents the country with a small window of opportunity to introduce and implement the policies and structural reforms considered crucial to ensure sustained growth of the country.

Missing out on this opportunity could entail far-reaching consequences that could impact the country’s long-term sustainable growth and the future of generations ahead.The current economic honeymoon being enjoyed by the country could just as easily become ephemeral, if evolving geo-political events in the region and internationally derails the current high oil price scenario.

Nonetheless, the current rise in global oil prices and increases in Kuwait’s daily oil production figures, have appreciably brightened the economic prospects of the country. The revenue windfall from oil remaining well over US$100 per barrel also allows the government more room to maneuver, replenish the depleted General Reserve Fund, which serves as the state treasury, and recoup some of the losses sustained over the years of recurring budget deficits.

According to an economic report by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), GDP in Kuwait is now expected to grow by 7 percent in 2022, compared to the anemic 2.5 percent growth registered in 2021. The ICAEW report adds that the oil sector, which accounts for more than half of the country’s GDP and is the major driving force of the economy, is expected to register a growth of 11.8 percent on an annual basis. This growth is based largely on prevailing higher oil prices, and the expected increase in oil production to 2.8 million barrels per day from September, following an agreement by OPEC and its allies among non-OPEC countries to increase oil output by 100,000 barrels per day from next month.

The report also notes that the non-oil sector, which has underperformed in recent years, is now projected to grow by 4.7 percent this year, on the back of higher consumer spending and strong real estate sales. The ICAEW report concludes that Kuwait’s financial situation will be far brighter in 2022 than a year earlier, as oil is projected to remain above the $100 mark for the rest of the year based on the ongoing conflict in eastern Europe that will likely continue through the upcoming winter and well into 2023. Current high prices could also very well result in Kuwait’s current budget, which is based on a conservative break-even estimate at $65 per barrel, registering its first surplus in years.

However, the brightened economy is no solace to the political plight that continues to prevail in the country. With the date for a second general election in less than two years expected to be announced shortly, vote-weary citizens are beginning to question the real reasons underlying Kuwait’s continued political weaknesses, and the country’s inability to introduce effective economic diversification, provide opportunities for gainful employment to youth, and promote sustainable growth and development.

Many people are, if only belatedly, starting to realize that the current social economic and political paralysis engulfing the country cannot be attributed solely to personal shortcomings of individual leaders or ministers in the cabinet, but lie deeper in more entrenched structural deficiencies and institutional dysfunctions. While there has been no dearth of suggested solutions to these deep-rooted malaises, the fact remains that implementing the remedies requires the kind of decisive actions that have so far been missing. The question being asked now is whether this time around things would be any different?

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