KUWAIT: MPs attend a session at the National Assembly on Wednesday. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

By B Izzak

KUWAIT: In a 12-hour marathon session, the National Assembly formed a three-member panel to investigate the Malaysian fund corruption scandal and passed several laws, but rejected a draft law that allows reducing salaries of employees in the private sector due to the coronavirus pandemic. The amendments to the labor law in the private sector sought to allow employers to reduce the salaries of their staff by up to 50 percent and ask them to take unpaid leave in a bid to cut costs during the pandemic.

But MP Abulkarim Al-Kandari said the proposed law allows companies to cut salaries retrospectively, which violates the constitution, adding that the bill impacts some 600,000 employees in the private sector who draw high salaries and does not provide protection for some 72,000 Kuwaitis in the private sector.

Scores of companies have already fired thousands, cut salaries of most of their employees and forced many to take unpaid leave among other measures to counter the financial impact of the coronavirus. During the debate, a number of MPs urged the government to accelerate the appointment of Kuwaitis and to reduce the number of expats in the country. MP Safa Al-Hashem said that many senior expat advisors are still occupying key posts in the government, including the Council of Ministers, “exposing the country’s confidential information”. She called to replace them with Kuwaitis.

The Assembly approved amendments to the rent law, giving the right to tenants to delay payment of rent or ask the court to make payments in installments as a result of the coronavirus. The amendments make it more difficult for landlords to evict tenants. MPs also passed a law on the right to obtain information but excluded military or sensitive information. They also passed a law imposing tougher penalties for domestic violence.

The Assembly also debated the corruption scandal of the Malaysian sovereign fun case which is being investigated by the public prosecution. Following the debate, the Assembly elected a three-member parliamentary investigation committee to probe the corruption scandal. The elected MPs are Safa Al-Hashem, Shuaib Al-Muwaizri and Awdah Al-Awdah.

The committee was given two months to submit its report to the Assembly. Minister of State for National Assembly Affairs Mubarak Al-Harees told MPs that the case is under investigation by the public prosecution and asked them while speaking not to mention names or information that could impact the investigation.

MP Kandari said the case is a real test of the government’s determination to fight corruption, adding that the case began four years ago when the account of the main suspect received $1.2 billion with no action taken by the supervisory authorities. He said the main suspect was released on bail while he has a private jet, and inquired if a former senior official is involved in the case. MP Yousef Al-Fadhalah wondered why the case was first exposed from abroad and not by the country’s supervisory authorities like the financial intelligence unit (FIU) and banks themselves.

MP Omar Al-Tabtabaei said the post of the head of FIU has remained vacant for the past two years after the previous chief resigned, adding that three banks reported inflated accounts of some persons without any move by the Central Bank. MP Riyadh Al-Adasani said the government complaint on the case is not complete. MP Hashem said the case had been shelved in Kuwait for years but the government was forced to reopen it after the US attorney reported it.

MP Khaled Al-Otaibi said he believes there are other major corruption cases in which high-profile people are involved and warned that sanctions could be imposed on Kuwait. HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah called on MPs not to involve the country in such corruption cases, insisting that only individuals are involved in these cases and will be held to account.