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Assembly cancels session after virus cases detected

By B Izzak

KUWAIT: National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem said yesterday that he decided to cancel a regular session of the Assembly today after the health ministry detected that a number of MPs and employees are infected with the coronavirus. The Assembly was scheduled to convene today and tomorrow to discuss a number of issues and debate a grilling against Finance Minister Barrak Al-Sheetan.

Ghanem said he received a letter from health minister Sheikh Basel Al-Sabah and later spoke with him, confirming that an unspecified number of lawmakers and employees were infected with the virus. He declined to provide details about the names of those infected or suspected of being infected, adding that some of the lawmakers and employees have to undergo the virus test once again. Ghanem said that he took the decision to cancel the meeting after consultations with the Assembly office and that a new date will be set for the next meeting.

The Assembly held its last session about three weeks ago. The speaker later announced that one of the lawmakers was suspected of testing positive for the disease and called on those who attended the session to undergo testing. Local media reported the name of MP Hamdan Al-Azemi, who denied it and said that his tests were negative. The ministry of health yesterday reported 614 new coronavirus cases, of which 378 are Kuwaitis, who have been taking top spot for several weeks now. It also reported three new deaths.

The Assembly was also scheduled to discuss a draft law allowing private companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic to reduce salaries of their expat staff, in addition to debating a grilling against Finance Minister Barrak Al-Sheetan. Rapporteur of the health and labor committee MP Saadoun Hammad said the panel added a new provision to the private sector law stating that it does not apply to Kuwaiti employees in the private sector.

The bill allows private sector companies to reduce salaries of their employees by up to 50 percent, provided they do not go below minimum wage. It also allows the firms to ask their employees to take leave by paying them just 30 percent of their salaries. Hammad said the provision the committee added exempts some 72,000 Kuwaitis working in the private sector, although the government has already pledged it will pay the difference to any Kuwaiti employee impacted by the measures.

The Assembly was to also discuss the grilling filed by MP Riyadh Al-Adasani against Sheetan, which is the second in less than a month. Adasani is holding the minister responsible for a document he presented to the Cabinet calling for imposing charges and taxes on public services. He also accused him of pushing a government draft law seeking to borrow some KD 20 billion, although the government has enough sources of finance.

But even though Adasani is grilling the minister over the debt legislation, the Assembly’s financial and economic affairs panel appears headed to approve the law. Head of the panel MP Safa Al-Hashem said voting on the law will take place on Sunday, adding that there is no objection for the government to raise debt, provided it can repay. She also said that the coronavirus crisis has exposed government finances after projections show this year’s budget deficit will be around KD 15 billion instead of the initially-estimated deficit of KD 7 billion.

The government has said that it wants to use KD 8 billion to meet the budget deficit and the remaining KD 12 billion for development projects. The panel is also preparing to cancel a requirement that 10 percent of revenues should be transferred to the Future Generations Fund. Adasani is also accusing the finance minister of not sending all documents to the public prosecution regarding the major scandal of the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.

Adasani said yesterday that the all issues related to the Malaysian fund scandal should be opened and debated. His statement comes after the public prosecution yesterday freed the two main suspects in the case on KD 50,000 bail each pending further investigations. MP Abdulkarim Al-Kandari meanwhile held the prime minister and the interior minister responsible for preventing the two suspects from fleeing the country after the public prosecution freed them on bail. He said the scandal has international ramifications and has tarnished Kuwait’s image.

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