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16-11-2011 - Kuwait Times

Kuwaiti MPs file request to grill PM over graft

In one of the most "exciting" political dramas in Kuwait, the government and its supporters in the National Assembly succeeded in scrapping a grilling against the prime minister, but the opposition immediately filed a fresh quiz, setting the stage for a fierce confrontation.

Several opposition MPs meanwhile warned the government that popular anger was growing rapidly and could explode anytime if the government insisted on protecting the prime minister against grillings.

The drama began when Speaker Jassem Al-Khorafi put for debate a government request to scrap a grilling filed against prime minister in March by MPs Ahmad Al-Saadoun and Abdulrahman Al-Anjari, claiming that it is unconstitutional following a constitutional court ruling last month.

The court said in a controversial ruling that the prime minister cannot be grilled for violations committed by his ministers and he can only be questioned for issues under his direct authority.

The government's request was strongly condemned by opposition MPs as an attempt to protect the prime minister from being questioned by the Assembly.

Opposition MPs were angered further when the government demanded that the debate on its request be held behind closed doors, which was followed by screams by opposition MPs towards government ministers. It took a long time for the Assembly to finally agree to hold the debate in a closed session, but when this happened, around half of the lawmakers walked out o f the session.

Thirty-eight members, including 15 ministers, supported the request while 26 opposition MPs refused to take part in the voting, claiming it is unconstitutional. MP Mussallam Al-Barrak insisted the decision amounted to amending the constitution and warned of dire consequences.

The 20-MP Opposition Bloc was joined by the five MPs of the National Action Bloc and independent Shiite MP Hassan Jowhar, bringing the total to 26, the number that can unseat the prime minister in a non-cooperation vote.

The Assembly also rejected a proposal put forward by the National Action Bloc to nominate two MPs to examine Central Bank books to check accounts of MPs who have allegedly received bribes.

But as soon as the first drama finished, three opposition lawmakers Al-Barrak, Faisal Al-Mislem and Al-Anjari filed another grilling against the prime minister over alleged corruption.

The new grilling, which is expected to be debated in two weeks, is based on two issues: the corruption scandal involving 16 MPs and accusations that the prime minister used public funds to transfer millions of dinars into his private bank accounts held abroad. The grilling request held Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah directly responsible for the two scandals and insisted he should be questioned in the Assembly.

The grilling states that the government has failed in combating corruption by delaying essential anti-corruption legislation even after HH the Amir has ordered the government to speed up the process in August. The lawmakers insisted that the prime minister has deliberately delayed those legislations and has not taken the necessary decisive measures to curb increasing corruption in the country.

With regards to the illegal deposits into the bank accounts of 16 MPs estimated at more than KD 100 million, the grilling claimed that the government of Sheikh Nasser has failed to take adequate measures to handle the issue in a bid to bring to account those responsible.

According to the opposition, the 16 pro-government MPs received millions of dinars in bribes to influence their voting on crucial issues. The public prosecution has already launched an investigation into the issue.

Regarding the other issue, the grilling claims that MPs have documents to prove that the prime minister has made money transfers from public funds through the foreign ministry to his own bank accounts abroad. The government has denied any wrongdoing, saying that the prime minister repaid all the money.

But the grilling insists that even if the premier repaid the money, this does not exempt him from responsibility of exploiting his position to illegally use public funds. This issue had forced former foreign minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Sabah, a senior member of the ruling family, to resign.

The government has so far made no comment on the new grilling but a constitutional battle is expected to be fought over it with the government expected to claim that these issues do not directly fall under the prime minister's jurisdiction and thus the grilling is unconstitutional.

But opposition MPs have already anticipated such a measure and insisted that these issues are the direct responsibility of the prime minister on the basis of the latest constitutional court ruling.

The opposition MPs plan to file a non-cooperation motion against the prime minister which needs just 25 votes to pass, which the opposition claims it has. Sheikh Nasser, 71, has been a target of opposition attacks since he was appointed to the prime minister post in Feb 2006, forcing him to resign six times. Parliament was also dissolved three times in the same period.


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