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Assembly approves budget, discusses financial situation

KUWAIT: Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem is seen during a session of the National Assembly yesterday. – KUNA

By B Izzak

KUWAIT: The National Assembly yesterday approved the 2020/2021 state budget after a brief debate after the house held a closed session to discuss the financial status of the country, which centers mainly on the sovereign wealth fund, estimated to hold assets worth $533 billion. Thirty-two MPs voted for the budget while as many as 19 members opposed it amid calls for wider and deeper reforms, halting squandering of public funds and diversifying the sources of income away from oil.

The budget projects a deficit of KD 14 billion, which MP Saleh Ashour said was the largest in a decade. It estimates revenues at KD 7.5 billion and spending at KD 21.5 billion, after reducing expenditures by KD 945 million. Ashour blamed what he described as the government’s incompetence for causing part of the deficit, saying the government contributed to a rise in spending and drop in non-oil revenues.

Head of the budgets committee MP Adnan Abdulsamad told the Assembly on Tuesday that oil income, which makes up the majority of public revenues, was calculated on the basis of $30 a barrel, while oil prices currently hover around $40 a barrel. Oil income in the budget was estimated at KD 5.6 billion and non-oil revenues at KD 1.9 billion. In addition, as part of the OPEC+ deal to cut production by close to 10 million barrels per day, Kuwait has slashed its own oil output by around 600,000 barrels per day, thus further denting revenues.

The Assembly also approved the final accounts of the state for the 2018/2019 fiscal year. Actual spending reached KD 21.8 billion and revenues hit KD 20.5 billion, leaving an actual deficit of KD 1.3 billion. Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem said after the closed session that Finance Minister Barrak Al-Sheetan made a presentation on the financial status of the country and a number of recommendations were submitted. He provided no further details.

MP Abdullah Al-Kandari said spending in 2011 was just KD 11 billion and rose to KD 21.5 billion in 2020, while it is expected to rise to KD 36 billion in 2030, “so how can we pay it?” MP Ahmad Al-Fadhl called for diversifying sources of income and reducing unnecessary spending, urging the prime minister to take the initiative to salvage the country’s finances.

MP Osama Al-Shaheen said the expenditures of the Amiri Diwan have swelled to become equal to that of the ministry of Islamic Affairs and must be checked and monitored. He said he is not talking about HH the Amir’s allocations. MPs also warned that the deficit was expected to continue to rise and is estimated to reach KD 64 billion in the next five years. MP Ali Al-Deqbasi said that a large portion of expenditures under the coronavirus crisis was unnecessary and simply squandered.

The Assembly also agreed to issue a statement condemning the burning of the Holy Quran by some groups in Sweden. The Assembly will meet today in a special session to vote on two no-confidence motions against the ministers of interior and education.

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