KUWAIT: The National Assembly yesterday agreed to hold a special debate on Feb 9 to discuss government plans to lift or reduce subsidies on public services and fuel. The government is expected to brief the Assembly with the recommendation of a study by an international consultant agency proposing raising the prices of petrol, electricity and water as part of a comprehensive reform program.

Finance Minister Anas Al-Saleh told reporters the government program deals with rationalization of subsidies and economic reforms to stimulate the private sector and national economy as a whole. The minister refused to say if the issue has been settled and the raising of charges is only a matter of time and is awaiting the debate in the Assembly, saying that the issue will be decided along with the Assembly. Saleh said that the difference between Kuwait and other Gulf states, which have taken decisions to raise prices to face the budget deficits, is that the Kuwaiti government has constitutional obligations.

HH the Amir last week told editors of local dailies that the government will increase the price of petrol, electricity and water. Saleh also said that the government has calculated revenues in next fiscal year’s budget at an oil price of just $25 a barrel, sharply lower than the $45 price adopted in the current fiscal year 2015/2016 which ends on March 31.

During an earlier closed door session in parliament, the Assembly also discussed the performance of the Kuwait Investment Authority and the conditions of financial reserves. The annual surplus of Kuwait’s budget is transferred to the general reserve, while ten percent is deducted for the Reserve Fund for Future Generations, said Saleh said. The minister’s statement came in response to parliamentary questions on Kuwait’s financial surplus in the past few years.

He said that deficit in the budget is an annual issue that depends on oil prices and expenditure, as there are people wondering how Kuwait could face deficit while it has financial reserves. “Having a deficit this year doesn’t necessarily mean we will face the same problem next year,” he noted during the Assembly’s ordinary session, reported state news agency KUNA.

In other parliamentary news, MPs Jamal Al-Omar and Mohammad Tana traded insults during the Assembly session yesterday after the latter accused Omar of covering up corruption charges. The two lawmakers insulted each other’s origin, with each claiming to be a true Kuwaiti.

The Assembly also rejected a new draft law that requires men and women to undergo counseling before they tie the knot. Several MPs criticized the proposal as against the traditions of the country. Head of the women’s committee MP Saleh Ashour said they included the provision to follow the experiment of Malaysia, which introduced such a requirement to bring down a rising divorce rate that hit 70 percent. Ashour said that the average annual divorce rate in Kuwait is hovering around 30 percent, while in some years it exceeded 50 percent.

The lawmakers however approved in the first reading a draft law for commercial agencies in Kuwait which a number of MPs blasted as pro-merchant. Commerce and Industry Minister Yousef Al-Ali said the law breaks a monopoly by agents which has been in place for decades, but a number of MPs disputed the claim. MPs particularly criticized the financial and economic affairs committee for removing an article in the law that allowed the same commodity to be imported by more than one agent.

By B Izzak