By Muna Al-Fuzai
Last week’s statements of Kuwait’s Minister of Finance Mariam Al-Aqeel of a fiscal deficit in the next budget of up to KD 9 billion has indeed caused an uproar among Kuwaitis amid public concerns about the possibility of imposing taxes or reducing salaries. The views that were mentioned by the Minister of Finance on how to address the financial deficit have instigated public fears.
Meanwhile, it was also unfortunate that some people received the information, re-published it or commented on it on social media as if it was good news. This is what I personally saw as a misjudgment of the situation, and it came with a negative results as it provoked public anger and came with backfire. Government proponents blame salaries and subsidies for the deficit, and not the mismanagement and expenditure which could help reduce the pressure on the budget of salaries. There was a public consensus to refuse compromising salaries, which was expected.
I think the complaint about the increasing numbers of employees in the public sector stems from the lack of support by the government to Kuwaitis entering in the private sector; whose numbers are very small. Out of an estimated 1.3 million jobs in the private sector, only 70,000 are occupied by Kuwaitis, knowing that the private sector does not pay tax, nor has it faced any government pressure to employ citizens.
It is common in the Arab world for governments to threaten citizens of imposing taxes and reducing subsidies for goods due to a deficit in the state’s general budget. It is sad because reducing salaries can lead to social and perhaps political unrest. I think salary cuts should be brought up only when government plans contribute to lowering prices and inflation, and providing real job opportunities in the private sector.
Also, no one wonders why the threat of salary cuts is being brought up to address a government financial deficit that has not been caused by people. It is worthy of the Ministry of Finance to lay out a new plan to develop new methods of increasing revenues and developing public budget management.
The Kuwaiti Cabinet had approved the general budget 2020/2021 and asked government agencies not to take any measures or decisions that would add additional financial burdens on the state’s budget. I think that is required now, but I wonder if it is compulsory?
There is no doubt that there is no popular acceptance of increasing fees or reducing salaries. Such proposals are never approved by the public, especially in Arab countries, because originally Arab citizens have a lot of anxiety to deal with, whether in dealing with services or the cost of living. They are already under the pressure of limited income and can’t afford more.