Kuwaiti parliament and government at impasse over loan relief bill

Divisive proposal would require government to buy billions of dinars of bank loans owed by Kuwaiti citizens

A Kuwaiti man withdraws cash from an ATM outside a Kuwait Finance House branch inside the Avenues Mall, the largest shopping centre in Kuwait on November 19, 2014. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and other global economic bodies estimate that the assets of Islamic financial institutions grew nine-fold to USD 1.8 trillion between 2003 and last year.  AFP PHOTO/ YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP PHOTO / YASSER AL-ZAYYAT
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Kuwait’s financial officials have voted unanimously against the withdrawal of several parliamentary draft bills, including one proposing the government takes on citizens’ outstanding bank loans.

The government said the mooted purchasing of such loans, with an estimated value of several billion dinars, led to its boycotting a National Assembly session last week because it had been granted insufficient time to voice its opinions on draft economic bills.

Saleh Ashour, rapporteur of the Kuwaiti Parliament’s financial and economic affairs committee, said seven draft bills were discussed on Sunday, chief among them the proposals to buy citizens’ debt, increase the pensions of retirees and convert the Kuwait Airways Corporation into a joint stock company.

It is feared that infighting between MPs and the government will stoke existing political tensions, which have led to previous parliaments being dissolved.

Two ministers last Tuesday walked out of parliament when MPs refused to return draft bills to the finance committee and insisted on debating the laws.

Mr Ashour said that, based on Articles 103 and 105 of parliamentary bylaws, the committee unanimously decided not to withdraw any of the reports on its agenda unless “substantial, fundamental and legal amendments are submitted to the proposals presented to the council”.

The draft bill that has caused particular friction between the two bodies requires the government to purchase billions of dinars of bank loans owed by more than half a million citizens. The National Assembly proposes the government writes off the interest and then reschedules repayments by deducting the 120-dinar ($390) monthly cost-of-living allowance from the debtors.

The government says the move would be too expensive, costing almost $46 billion in public funds. However, MPs insist it would cost less than $6.5 billion.

The latest spat reached a stalemate on Monday when an official source told the Kuwaiti Al Qabas newspaper that the government had issued an ultimatum: either parliament withdraws its threats to question Cabinet ministers and the contested loans relief bill, or else it would submit its resignation.

Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nawaf Al Sabah convened an emergency cabinet meeting last Wednesday, in which ministers reviewed several decisions after the government's withdrawal from Tuesday’s session and its boycott the following day.

The government said it had not been given adequate leeway to study two reports prepared by the financial and economic affairs committee before it could address the issues raised in parliament.

MP Jenan Bushehri, one of two women in the National Assembly, formally submitted a request to question Cabinet Affairs Minister and former foreign minister Barak Al Shaitan in parliament.

Parliamentary questioning is a constitutional right granted to politicians in Kuwait to cross-examine the Prime Minister or cabinet members and overthrow them if a vote of no confidence is reached.

Updated: January 16, 2023, 1:25 PM