Assembly debates premier grilling in closed session

MP Abdulwahab Al-Babtain speaks as MP Omar Al-Tabtabaei looks on. (Right) Oil Minister Bakheet Al-Rasheedi speaks during the session. – Photos by Yasser Al-Zayyat

KUWAIT: Ten lawmakers yesterday filed a no-confidence motion against Oil and Electricity Minister Bakheet Al-Rasheedi following an 11-hour marathon grilling over allegations of corruption and squandering public funds. After the oil minister’s grilling was completed, the Assembly began the debate of the grilling against HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah, and later it was scheduled to debate a grilling against Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Hind Al-Sabaeeh.

The prime minister said he was prepared, although “we all know the motives and the aims” of the grilling. The government immediately demanded the debate to be held behind closed doors and speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem ordered spectators to leave the chamber to allow lawmakers to debate the government’s request.

Rasheedi, who has been in office for less than five months, was grilled by opposition MPs Omar Al-Tabtabaei and Abdulwahab Al-Babtain, who accused the minister and top oil executives of causing billions of dollars in losses for the oil sector, which provides the majority of Kuwait’s revenues. The minister denied the allegations and explained that there were no delays in mega oil projects underway and that the alleged losses in the oil sector were not based on material evidence.
Ahead of the no-confidence motion, the Assembly rejected a proposal by 16 MPs to form a committee to investigate allegations in the grilling and submit its findings to the Assembly after two months. Five MPs later submitted the same proposal but said the findings of the committee should be submitted in just one month instead of two. The Assembly was likely to vote on the proposal later. The lawmakers who signed the no-confidence motion are: Al-Humaidi Al-Subaei, Abdulkarim Al-Kandari, Faisal Al-Kandari, Hamdan Al-Azemi, Babtain, Tabtabaei, Adel Al-Damkhi, Salah Khorshid, Safa Al-Hashem and Khalil Abul.

During the lengthy debate, the two MPs blasted the minister and the top oil executives of the national oil conglomerate Kuwait Petroleum Corp (KPC) and other oil companies. Babtain accused the minister of causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses by delaying the opening of the joint venture refinery in Vietnam, saying that Kuwait pays annual interest of $52 million for the delay. In addition, the oil sector has loaded nine oil vessels worth $900 million for the refinery, which did not start on time and caused the losses, he said.

He also said that the oil sector paid end of service compensation totaling KD 3.4 million to 25 expatriate employees, alleging irregularities. Babtain also accused the minister of being responsible for lucrative retirement packages of millions of dinars given to senior oil officials on retirement, saying this violated the law.

Tabtabaei charged that only 42 percent of the new refinery has been completed, although the oil sector has announced that 80 percent has been completed. He claimed that a foreign businessman paid bribes to get an oil project which eventually cost public funds close to $500 million. Tabtabaei claimed that CEO of KPC Nezar Al-Adsani convinced the prime minister to establish a new oil company worth $6 billion and a year later called for scrapping it to cut spending.

The minister denied the allegations and in particular denied the bribery case. He also denied that there is any plan to scrap the $6-billion company. Rasheedi also stressed that he has answered 151 questions out of 153 questions he received from MPs. A number of MPs also defended the minister, saying he has been in the post for only a few months and should have been given more time to be evaluated.

By B Izzak