Kuwait's emir swears in new cabinet

Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, has sworn in a new cabinet that includes new oil, finance and defence ministers and seven members of the ruling Al Sabah family. Elizabeth Dickinson reports

KUWAIT CITY // Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, swore in a new cabinet yesterday that includes new oil, finance and defence ministers and seven members of the ruling Al Sabah family.

The ruler of the Gulf state, which has been rocked by political turmoil for seven years, called for "positive and fruitful cooperation" between the new government and parliament to push ahead with economic development and the improvement of public services.

Kuwait has been governed by 12 cabinets since 2006, and among the key tests for the incoming government will be simply staying put for the full parliamentary term of two years.

Previous disputes between the legislative and executive bodies have forced 11 cabinets to resign and prompted parliament to be dissolved on six occasions over as many years.

Prime minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al Sabah said the new government would seek cooperation with MPs to "open a new page" in the history of Kuwait. The swearing-in of the new 16-member cabinet came after the second parliamentary election in eight months was again boycotted by some segments of the opposition.

Islamist candidates, as well as some segments of the liberal opposition, did not participate citing a dispute over changes to the electoral law made by the Emir last fall and upheld by the country's constitutional court in June.

Among the most-watched appointments was the finance portfolio, which will be managed by the former central bank governor, Sheikh Salem Abdulaziz Al Sabah, who resigned last year in protest over a huge expansion in public spending. In his resignation letter in February last year, Sheikh Salem complained that public spending had increased to unprecedented and unsustainably high levels, jeopardising fiscal and monetary stability. Between 2006 and 2012, government spending tripled to more than Dh257 billion with the overwhelming majority going to support salary increases and state subsidies. The outgoing finance minister Mustafa Al Shamali was named oil minister, a post he had held on a caretaker basis since May following the resignation of Hani Hussein. As well as the premier, six other members of the Al Sabah family were appointed to the cabinet, one more than in the previous government. They control the key ministries of foreign affairs, as well as finance, information and health. New interior and defence ministers also draw from within the ruling family. Fresh appointments to the finance and defence ministries could avert at least one potential political headache for the incoming government.

Kuwait's parliament has the power to introduce legislation and to question members of the cabinet, and several incoming MPs had threatened to grill the two ministers if the incumbents were renamed to their posts.

The former finance minister in particular had come under heavy criticism during the election campaign for authorising Dh14.7bn of aid to the military-installed government in Egypt.

Yet some in the incoming national assembly, which local press described as largely pro-government, still expressed concerns that the new cabinet saw too many repeat appointments.

"The government has seven members from the ruling family and the rest are former ministers ... This confirms that there is no intention to inject young blood," independent MP Riyadh Al Adasani said. The ministers of commerce, development, social affairs and labour, information, education and Islamic affairs were retained.

Newly-elected MP Issa Al Kundari was appointed communications minister. The cabinet retains the two female ministers in the same posts and has two members from the Shiite minority.

MP Maasouma Al Mubarak, normally close to the government, said she was shocked by the retention in the new line-up of several ministers who had failed to perform and warned it was likely to lead to new friction with parliament.

The previous cabinet, also headed by Sheikh Jaber, resigned last week in a routine process following a general election.

The July 27 vote saw turnout of 52.5 per cent, sharply up on the record low of 40 per cent in the previous election in December.

Kuwait, which says it sits on 10 per cent of global oil reserves, pumps around three million barrels of crude per day. It has a citizen population of 1.23 million and 2.67 million expatriate residents.

*With additional reporting from Agence France-Presse

Published: August 5, 2013 04:00 AM

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