Recent decisions and directives of His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Al-Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, and directions of the Council of Ministers to top ministry officials, could be early indications that the new government is committed to implementing policies, projects, and reforms, while also ensuring impartiality, objectivity and transparency in its governance.

Following the swearing-in of the new government at the start of August, His Highness the Prime Minister stressed on the ministers the need to take a different approach in their official interactions with people, and to disregard any transactions that were not in line with the rule of the law. He also urged the cabinet not to succumb to ‘wasta’ (illegal recommendations) or allow for interventions in their work, and that of the ministries under them, by influential people or lobbies. He encouraged them to engage in constructive and dedicated work so as to realize the all-round development of the nation and meet the aspirations of people.

The premier also directed the cabinet to issue a circular to senior officials in their ministries to compile a list of competent people who are eligible for promotions and to shun ‘wasta’ in hiring and promoting people, as ministry officials have in the past been accused of engaging in nepotism and providing ‘parachute’ employment to their relatives and other incompetent ‘recommended’ people, over those who are more deserving and qualified.

Since then, the Council of Ministers has been holding regular meetings at the Seif Palace to discuss and implement directives and execute decisions aimed at reviving and speeding up a slew of stalled developmental projects, and introducing administrative reforms to provide equitable and transparent services to people.
Several, crucial development projects, long held back by economic and political compulsion, are being dusted off and revived by the new government. Some of the projects being resurrected and fast-tracked for completion include the Failaka Park, Entertainment City, Wafra Agricultural Park, and the Air-Cargo City project.

Last week, the Cabinet discussed the recommendation submitted by the ministerial committee that had been set up to supervise and follow-up on the implementation of major developmental projects in the country. The committee, headed by Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and Acting Minister of Interior Sheikh Talal Khaled Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah had in its report recommended among others the need to speedup work on the Failaka Tourist Park project and the Entertainment City project with participation of the private sector.

Accordingly, the Cabinet assigned the Minister of Finance and Minister of State for Economic Affairs and Investment, Abduwahab Mohammad Al-Rushaid, with the responsibility of supervising the follow-up on the implementation of the Failaka Tourism Park project, as well as the Entertainment City project. The Cabinet also authorized the minister to take appropriate measures needed to overcome any hurdles that stood in the way of realizing these projects.

In addition, the Council of Ministers assigned the Public Authority for Agriculture Affairs and Fish Resources (PAAFR) to begin implementing the recreational and cultural park project in the Wafra agricultural area. The cabinet also discussed the ministerial committee’s recommendation on the Air-Cargo City project at Kuwait International Airport. The Council then instructed the Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGCA) to ensure the speedy implementation of this project, and to take measures to achieve its completion at the earliest.

Besides introducing a time-bound program for government agencies to revive and fast track pending projects, the Council of Ministers also called on ministry officials in charge of supervision of project implementation to identify the causes for the delays in completion of developmental projects in the past, and to hold accountable those responsible for tardiness in completion of these crucial government undertakings.

Moreover, in furtherance of the directives of His Highness the Prime Minister to provide equitable and transparent public services, the Council of Ministers requested the Minister of Health Khaled Mhawes Al-Saeed to issue strict instructions to Ministry of Health (MoH) officials, and in particular those in charge of the ministry’s Overseas Treatment department, not to accept foreign treatment requests or other related recommendations from influential people, including from members of the dissolved parliament or their delegates, as well as those standing as candidates in the upcoming general elections.

On a related note, last week, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Mustafa Reda, issued a circular stating that from now on specialized committees will examine urgent requests for emergency treatment abroad, and will determine whether the patient needs to be sent abroad or could be treated just as effectively at one of the local facilities of MoH.

Also, in a further measure to provide treatment abroad only to those citizens who cannot be treated efficiently locally, and to ensure transparency in the working of the ministry’s health offices overseas, MoH directed all its foreign health offices to stop dealing through intermediaries, whether an individual or a company that facilitates treatment abroad for citizens, and instead deal directly with the concerned hospitals to ascertain citizens had access to integrated healthcare.

In this context of reforms and revival it is worth noting that the prevailing high oil prices and concomitant rise in revenues gives the government the necessary financial clout needed to revive long-pending projects and launch new ones. Unblocking project pipelines that have for long encountered disruptions to their implementation are needed to push the country forward along the path envisioned in its strategic Vision 2035, and attain the New Kuwait development plans that aim to transform Kuwait into a financial, commercial and cultural hub in the region.

Additionally, the continuing balmy economic climate from oil remaining over US$100 per barrel has led to more optimism among people and a rejuvenation in market activity. This new dynamism in the country provides the government with a small window of opportunity to push through sorely needed economic, financial and administrative reforms that have been mired for ages in political haggling and bogged down by periods of economic downturns.

In the past, any windfall in revenues from higher oil prices that have given rise to consumer buoyancy and a spur in economic activity have been squandered by the authorities. Increases in revenue have been accompanied by demands for hikes in salaries, subsidies and other handouts to nationals. The government has usually acquiesced to these demands in a bid to appease citizens, and to placate political pressures from the opposition in parliament. These short-sighted measures have consistently failed to produce any long-lasting gains to the government or country.

Moreover, on previous occasions when the government had the latitude to implement reforms during periods of high oil prices and overflowing state coffers, the authorities have consistently balked from introducing needed structural changes to the economy as they were deemed unpopular, even though they were crucial to sustained growth and development of the country.

It is certainly a relief to witness that the new government appears determined to avoid past complacency, and is keen to restore crucial developmental projects from the back burners where they were languishing, and accord priority to implementing them during this period of increased income. The hope now is that the government will continue with this initial enthusiasm and introduce the necessary policies and procedures needed to bring about structural changes to the economy.

The need to diversify the economy and introduce policies and procedures needed to wean Kuwait away from its over reliance on hydrocarbon revenues, were once again underlined during the COVID-19 pandemic period. Oil prices fell precipitously from their previous highs at the height of the crisis, and Kuwait’s overdependence on oil revenues resulted in a sharp economic downturn, and the state treasury, the General Reserve Fund, facing near depletion.

Although oil prices have since rebounded and are now trading at levels higher than the pre-pandemic period, the country is now being buffeted by geopolitical happenings in Europe that threaten its food security.The fact that the government appears to be aware of the transient nature of the current upswing in revenues, and understands that higher oil prices are inevitably followed by a phase of lower prices, is a refreshing change from past practices.

Reviving stranded projects and being cognizant of the fickleness of oil prices and the folly of depending on a single source of revenue to fuel sustained economic growth and development of the country, is only one side of the equation. The new government should also set fresh objectives and targets and introduce innovative policies to implement far-reaching reforms so as to ensure a sustainable economic model of growth going into the future, while also taking into account the social, environmental and geopolitical realities and challenges facing Kuwait.

Kuwait has immense ‘locked-away’ potential that has not been efficiently leveraged or realized in the past. This includes the potential of its human resources, the power of the country’s young demographic profile, and the multiple economic sectors that are ripe for attracting local, regional and international investments. The country could easily become an ideal investment destination for global liquidity as it searches for a home.

However, a caveat to foreign investments, or even local investment for that matter, is that the country should be able to ensure a stable political environment, have adequate infrastructure, and a reform-oriented and investor-friendly government at the helm. A government that proactively encourages and promotes mutually beneficial partnerships that provide a win-win situation for all stakeholders. Tapping into this quiescent potential and improving the investment climate should be one of the top priorities for the new government in office.

Announcements of the new government during its first two weeks in office are certainly encouraging, and the fresh breath of air being infused into the workings of ministries and other government entities could portend to better days ahead for citizens and residents in their engagements with public undertakings. These proactive measures also kindle a spark of hope that this time around things could be different.

Let us fervently hope that the new government will be the one that finally delivers the results the country needs and people aspire for, and that the spark of hope they have ignited now will become a flame that lights the path of the country going forward.

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