By B Izzak

KUWAIT: Lawmakers continued yesterday their criticism of Finance Minister Mariam Al-Aqeel over her controversial remarks about the need to cut spending and raise revenues by imposing selective taxes. Aqeel’s remarks were made last week while presenting the budget for 2020/2021, which projected the deficit to increase to well over KD 9 billion after making the deduction for the future generations fund, although spending remained unchanged.

Head of the financial and economic affairs committee MP Safa Al-Hashem said the projected budget is only an estimate and the actual shortfall is expected to be between KD 3 to 4 billion. She said the finance minister has provoked the people when she hinted that the wages bill should be rationalized, adding that speaking about salaries in this way is a “big mistake”. Hashem said she will not blame lawmakers if they decide to grill the minister over that statement.

MP Riyadh Al-Adasani said Kuwait’s economy and financial position are strong, adding that although public revenues do not cover spending, “if we take returns on investments into account, Kuwait will post a surplus”. He warned that the government should not contemplate solutions mentioned by the finance minister like imposing taxes and raising charges on public services because this will lead to grillings.

MP Shuaib Al-Muwaizri insisted that the budget deficit is not real, but the government wants citizens to live under fear and anxiety, adding that by focusing on the deficit “lie”, the government plans to privatize education and health services and sell public companies. He also charged that the government is using the deficit as a pretext to borrow and to show that mismanagement of government agencies is because of the shortfall.

Muwaizri also threatened to grill HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah if a top Kuwaiti bank completes the acquisition of another bank. He said four government bodies together own over 48 percent of the bank and the planned acquisition involves suspicions and clash of interests, adversely affecting public funds. MP Adasani also threatened to grill Electricity and Water Minister Khaled Al-Fadhel after he allegedly failed to provide details about a contract at a power station for a consortium of two companies.

MP Adel Al-Damkhi meanwhile sent explanations demanded by Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Ghadeer Al-Aseeri over a grilling Damkhi filed against her. In his reply, Damkhi insisted that the grilling is very clear and is based on events that took place after the minister had been sworn in, and accordingly the grilling is in line with the constitution. The grilling is scheduled to be debated tomorrow after a two-week delay.