KUWAIT: Kuwait Times Editor-in-Chief Abd Al-Rahman Al-Alyan (left) meets HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah at Seif Palace yesterday. — KUNA

By Abd Al-Rahman Al-Alyan – Editor-in-Chief

KUWAIT: It was a truly welcome change to attend an open discussion yesterday between HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah and editors-in-chief of Kuwait’s media. The meeting at Seif Palace personally gave me a feeling of normality despite the masks and social distancing. However, these are unprecedented times and we should be well aware that returning back to normal life in stages does not mean that the pandemic is over.

This is something that Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled emphasized in our discussions yesterday. “I informed HH the Amir that extreme measures had to be taken for Kuwait to face this pandemic,” he said. “The truth is – without a confirmed cure or vaccine, any set plan of when we can get back to normal life is a prediction that could face setbacks,” he reminded us all.

To break down his message: The fact of the matter is we all have to be responsible in this fight against the coronavirus by sticking to safety procedures and guidelines from the ministry of health. This is a serious matter that some people have taken for granted and still participate in social gatherings, and this further increases the chances of the virus spreading in Kuwait.

Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled reassured us all that Kuwait is in a good position, but “there are challenges that face us”. The most important ones are health, economy, education and security. First and top of that list is public health and the ministry of health’s recommendations and approval will be key in all planned stages of returning back to normal life.

Economically, Kuwait is financially stable and public sector salaries will be paid as usual. However, the PM pointed out that despite Kuwait’s strong financial position, serious economic reforms are needed to sustain it. The premier noted that even though only a short amount of time remains for this government to complete its mandate before the elections – it has taken actions and devised policies to help assist existing businesses and to encourage the manufacture of necessary products locally.

Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled emphasized that it’s crucial for Kuwait to diversify its sources of income away from oil to be able to sustain its economy in the long term, regardless of global oil prices.

The subject of security also raised the issue of the highly-controversial demographic imbalance that Kuwait faces and the issue of corruption, as the seriousness of the government’s will to tackle these issues was questioned. The premier responded to questions on these issues by saying that he had a conversation with HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, who has advised that no one is above the law and all necessary legal actions should be taken. “Don’t look at the names, look at their actions,” the prime minister told us, quoting the Amir.

According to the prime minister, legal action is now being taken against 224 companies that are suspected of illegal visa trading. These have fueled the demographic imbalance, especially with unnecessary unskilled labor. Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled also noted that firm measures will be taken against any person who breaks the law or embezzles public funds.

As for the question of education and when schools might reopen, the prime minister responded that the government strongly believes in the importance of education and is deliberating over the issue. “Educating our children is of extreme importance but not at the cost of their health,” Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled said.

Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled also affirmed Kuwait’s continuous efforts in solving the Gulf dispute. The prime minister stressed HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah’s keenness on the continuation of Gulf joint cooperation. He also reminded everyone that he was a foreign minister in the past, and was close to the efforts exerted by HH the Amir to end the dispute.

“I am sure that all Gulf states see the path of the Gulf Cooperation Council as important to them and to the region and the world,” Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled added. “Unfortunately, we are now in the fourth year of the Gulf dispute, but attempts are still continuing and hopes are greater than they were,” he said.

The prime minister closed the meeting by thanking all frontline personnel for their efforts and sacrifices. He also thanked the nation for our understanding and patience. “The solidarity that people have shown has made me proud to be part of this nation,” he said.

Leaving Seif Palace, I felt reassured that the government has a clear plan of action to address all the issues of concern. I also am glad to see the regular press conferences and more open discussions with the press. For the first time, there is a clear flow of information from the government to the people of Kuwait. This is what we need if we are all going to work hand in hand for a better, stronger Kuwait.