Lawmakers approve final reading of early retirement bill

KUWAIT: In a swift move that hardly took a few minutes, National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem declared that the seats of opposition MPs Jamaan Al-Harbash and Waleed Al-Tabtabaei have become vacant based on a constitutional court ruling. The announcement was made without allowing any debate and amid strong protests by opposition lawmakers, who then walked out of the session to protest against the violation of the constitution and Assembly laws.

KUWAIT: HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah attends a parliament session at the National Assembly yesterday. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

Ghanem sternly told the house that this decision was an implementation of the court ruling and completely in line with the country’s constitution and laws. He then asked those who oppose the decision to raise their hands, and 18 MPs did so. There were 58 MPs and ministers in the chamber. Before walking out, several opposition MPs insisted to talk about the issue to explain their viewpoints, but the speaker declined. The lawmakers later returned to the hall to debate other issues.

Ghanem later told reporters his action was an implementation of a court verdict and that he has adopted the correct constitutional procedures, slamming what he described as MPs who are acting against the people. He vowed to expose such MPs in a television interview today, saying he will reveal many facts about certain people.

The speaker reiterated that his action was not directed against the persons of the two lawmakers but was an implementation of the law. “These procedures that have been adhered to today have nothing to do with the MPs Al-Tabtabaei and Al-Harbash as persons – whom we deeply admire and respect,” he said. “These measures are not against persons and this must be clear to all. None of us desires to strip any of our colleagues of their membership in such a manner; however we have received final verdicts from the court of cassation,” Ghanem said.

In quick comments on the Assembly decision, Tabtabaei and Harbash criticized the decision. Tabtabaei said that the Assembly had no right to repeat the voting after it had voted to retain their membership in October. Harbash said he has nothing to be ashamed of as he was paying the price of fighting against corruption. The 15 opposition lawmakers who left the session did not take any immediate decision and did not announce any protest plans.

But a number of them criticized the action taken by the speaker, insisting his action is a clear violation of the constitution and the internal charter. MP Adel Al-Damkhi said the speaker did not allow the opposition to speak, which is a violation of the internal charter. He added the action was against the constitution. MP Mohammad Al-Dallal said the voting on the decision was a violation of the law and that the speaker did not allow MPs to speak on the issue, which is not correct. He said the walkout was to express opposition and non-acceptance of the decision.

MP Osama Al-Shaheen said the action constituted a clear violation of the constitution and the will of the voters as well. He warned that the action could lead to what he called legal chaos, because the constitutional court exceeded its powers. The government must now call for by-elections within 60 days to elect two members to replace Harbash and Tabtabaei.

The entire issue started when the court of cassation, the highest court in the country, issued in July a final verdict convicting Harbash and Tabtabaei, in addition to a dozen other ex-MPs and opposition activists for storming the National Assembly building during a protest against corruption in Nov 2011. The court jailed Tabtabaei and Harbash to 42 months in jail. They however did not go to jail because they were outside the country when the verdict was issued.

Following the jail verdict, the Assembly voted to retain their membership in the house. A motion against this vote was then filed at the constitutional court, which ruled last month that an article in the Assembly’s internal charter was unconstitutional. It was the article the Assembly vote was based on.

In another Assembly business, MPs comfortably passed the second and final reading of the early retirement law under which male and female civil servants can seek retirement before the legal age against a two percent deduction from their pension until women reach 60 and men 65 years of age. With the new law, workers can apply for voluntarily retirement before the legal age, provided they bear the costs, in addition to creating the opportunity allowing retirement at the age of 30 for men and 25 for women from Jan 1, 2020. There is no discrimination, within framework of the new law, between married and unmarried women who seek retirement.

The law has a string of cases and conditions, saying in part that the retiree can seek disbursement of a quarter of the retirement payment for 28 months in advance – only once during their lifetime. Finance Minister Nayef Al-Hajraf affirmed that the new law grants prerogatives based on social solidarity. It is voluntary and the civil servant in this case bears relevant costs, he explained. Ghanem dismissed the belief that that this law will enable the government to force civil servants to retire. “Such rhetoric is baseless because the retirement is voluntary,” he assured.

By B Izzak