Kuwait finance minister grilled in parliament

The National Assembly on Tuesday began the scheduled interpellation session to question Finance Minister Dr. Nayef Al-Hajraf. Al-Hajraf, MPs Bader Al-Mulla and Riad Al-Adsani, took to the two sides of the stand, kicking off the grilling session over alleged irregularities in the minister’s performance.

National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Ali Al-Ghanim had said in a statement after the MPs began the interpellation debate that the two lawmakers, Al-Adsani and Al-Mulla, filed the inquiry motion on May 28 to quiz the minister in his capacity. Al-Ghanim said that in line with the Article 135 of the parliament by-law, minister Al-Hajraf had been informed of the planned interpellation immediately after he received the motion.

He then enlisted it in today’s session. He has confirmed that the interpellation can only be debated eight days after submitting the motion, in an emergency condition, along with the concerned minister’s consent. The latter is eligible to request a delay for maximum of two weeks. The parliament is also empowered to make such a request and further delays can only be approved with the MPs’ consent. Al-Hajraf, when asked by the speaker in today’s session whether he desired to debate the interpellation today, the minister affirmed that he was ready to take to the podium and “refute the axes included in the motion by the two MPs.”

MPs Al-Adsani and Al-Mulla are grilling the finance minister over a number of issues, including alleged “obstacles” in the investments’ sector and taking “harmful” steps against ensured retirees. They are also accusing him of masterminding “an insensible policy” for managing public investments. The government in its latest session affirmed full support for the minister, examined his prepared answers to the two MPs lauding their clarity and accuracy.

MP Riad Al-Adsani voiced dismay at what he deemed “government reluctance and remissness in lodging complaints against public money misappropriations” and Finance Minister Nayef Al-Hajraf’s failure to do something in this regard.

Al-Adsani also lashed out at alleged embezzlements of investments and government failure to act properly and appropriately as well as “citizens’ sufferings” due to the surging cost of living in the country. The irate MP cited seven misappropriation and fraud cases involving over a total one billion US dollars as a relevant resonant paradigm. He regretted that some companies were involved in the selling of fictitious assets, thus leading to the squandering of pensions. He further ripped the minister to shreds for shrugging off several key state agencies, chiefly Kuwait Investment Authority, in the recent merger of Kuwait Finance House and Ahli United Bank.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Finance said that 95 percent of the incidents mentioned in the grilling paper against Finance Minister Dr. Nayef Al-Hajraf occurred before he took over the ministerial portfolio. Al-Hajraf will present key information, especially since he took over the ministerial portfolio on December 11 last year, as he has not paid the money off the budget without approval of the National Assembly (Parliament), the Ministry said in a statement.

The minister will clarify that since he took over the portfolio, he has been investigated every complaints and suspicion and “transferred it to the Anticorruption Authority (Nazaha),” the ministry added. The statement added that the minister focused on the “great” efforts made in dealing with the file of custody and statutory accounts, in addition to reviewing the “outstanding” performance of the General Authority for Investment during the past ten years and the transformation in the management of the General Organization for Social Insurance. The National Assembly began its regular session on Tuesday discussing the question addressed to Minister of Finance Dr. Nayef Al-Hajraf by MPs Bader Al-Mulla and Riad AlAdasani after the Minister was ready to discuss.

A Kuwaiti lawmaker on Tuesday lashed out at the country’s pension fund for taking “overly risky” investments, saying it could incur huge financial losses as a result of the gamble.

The Public Institution for Social Security (PIFSS) had claimed financial benefits of up to 80
percent, MP Dr. Bader Al-Mulla said. The practice “goes against proper Islamic decorum,” the lawmaker explained, taking PIFSS to task for “failing to deliver” proper healthcare benefits for retired employees. He spoke of widespread financial irregularities that may end up costing the country staggering investment losses of up to US$586 million, accusing the country’s investment fund of misplanning such ventures.

Finance Minister Nayef Al-Hajraf asserted that he stood prepared to rebuff MPs’ arguments in spite of the “unconstitutionality of the interpellation”. Taking to the floor after MPs Riad Al-Adsani and Bader Al-Mulla, who filed a grilling motion against Al-Hajraf, spoke out during the grilling session, the minister said: “Armed with credibility, I have preferred to shoulder full responsibility for replying and facing the interpellation.”

Billing the interpellation as “unconstitutional”, Al-Hajraf defended that it is unreasonable for him to be responsible for the previous works of former ministers. He argued that some matters mentioned in the interpellation date back to pre-1995 in an obvious proof that objective and correct democratic practices were not observed. However, he stressed that he would not mind being grilled in a way that would serve the public interest, spotlight blunders, rather than persons, and target remedy and reform.

He added that he had nothing to do with the sweeping majority of the remarks voiced by the deputies over affairs and things that had taken place before he took over. He noted that the trust account fell from KD8.66 billion (US$28 billion) to KD4.55 billion (US$15 billion), affirming that he had ordered a ministerial team to be set up in order to look into this file just one month after he was handpicked as finance minister. In this context, the minister vowed to send any irregularity to the Public Prosecution immediately, rejecting any misappropriation of public funds as “unacceptable”.

As for Kuwait Investment Authority, he said the Future Generations Fund grew by 152 percent, and the authority has risk management centers in Kuwait, the US and Ireland. But, Al-Hajraf admitted that the Kuwait Investment Authority (PIA) has been locked in several problems due to its former director-general’s improper investments.