By B Izzak

Finance Minister Mariam Al-Aqeel

KUWAIT: Lawmakers yesterday intensified their criticism of Finance Minister Mariam Al-Aqeel for saying there is a need to revise the wages of civil servants and consider imposing taxes and charges. MP Abdulwahab Al-Babtain disputed the figures provided by the minister while presenting the new budget for 2020/2021, saying there is always a difference of more than one billion dinars between actual and government figures. He also disputed what the minister said, that government departments demanded KD 27 billion and that the ministry reduced the figure to KD 22.5 billion, doubting this huge figure could be right.

Babtain said that touching the wages of Kuwaitis is a red line, adding that “don’t think about borrowing or imposing taxes or (reducing) salaries of Kuwaitis, and if you are incapable of avoiding these, you should resign”. He said that in the 2016/17 fiscal year, the projected deficit was the highest ever at KD 9.6 billion, but the minister said next year’s projected deficit of KD 9.2 billion was a record high in order to scare the people, adding that it is still an estimate and not an actual deficit. He said the minister also failed to mention the returns on Kuwait’s massive investments.

The lawmaker warned that any step by the minister to reconsider wages will force MPs to reconsider their positions toward her, saying that in the last budget, wages accounted for just KD 7.2 billion and not as mentioned. Babtain challenged Aqeel to make public the actual figures about Kuwait’s investments abroad and the value of the sovereign wealth fund.

He said the minister claims there is a budget deficit, while KD 20 billion of profits are “seized” by a number of state establishments, and there is KD 1.3 billion in state debt that should be collected, adding that foreign aid was set at KD 100 million but ballooned to KD 600 million. Babtain said the cost of the Eurofighter jets and Caracal helicopters is KD 6 billion, and “if we add to them the scale of corruption at the interior ministry…and other embezzlements of public funds, the total will be KD 13.19 billion, and this will be more than enough to meet the deficit”.

MP Saleh Ashour said that the chapter for wages and others covers nine items and the item for wages is KD 5.5 billion only, or just 25 percent of spending. MP Ali Al-Deqbasi sent a series of questions to the finance minister asking why the minister had raised the issue of amending wages without previously consulting the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, the Assembly will debate today a grilling against Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Ghadeer Aseeri over violating the constitution and undermining the status of MPs. The minister said she is ready to debate the grilling and will not ask for another delay. Assembly speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem said the Assembly is set for the debate and called for a high-level debate, adding that he will not allow anyone to disrupt the session.