By Khaled Al-Abdulhadi
KUWAIT: With recent opinions skeptical of the role of the legislative process in Kuwait and its actual effects on policymaking, we should look back to the constitution and the freedoms it provides to members of the parliament with regards to their role in interacting with the government.
In Kuwait, the constitution allows MPs a degree of freedom with regards to the legislative process and its supervision with the executive body. It also protects MPs and their views, as they are seen as representatives of the entire nation. Moreover, it necessitates that the Cabinet must provide a program that would be followed. Furthermore, MPs can question and force the resignation of a minister, in addition to their usual duties as legislators.
Constitutional rights and legal immunity
Article 108 states “A member of the Assembly represents the whole nation. He shall safeguard the public interest and shall not be subject to any authority in the discharge of his duties in the Assembly or in its committees.”
Article 109 states “A member of the Assembly shall have the right to initiate bills. No bill initiated by a member and rejected by the National Assembly may be re-introduced during the same session.
Article 110 states “A member of the National Assembly shall be free to express, any views or opinions in the Assembly or in its committees. Under no circumstances shall he be held liable in respect thereof”, meaning no legal action can be taken against an MP.
Supervising the government program
Article 98 states that immediately upon the formation of a Cabinet, it shall present its program to the Assembly, and the Assembly may make comments with regards to the program. This program is then set as a basis for the supervision work of the parliament. If any issue is found, article 114 gives MPs the right to form investigation committees in any matter they see fit, with the ministry obliged to produce a reply.
Article 99 states clearly, “Every member of the National Assembly may put to the prime minister and to ministers questions with a view to clarifying matters falling within their competence.” There are 34,324 questions listed in the official Assembly database to date, with the first question addressed by a number of MPs to then foreign minister, the late Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on Feb 20, 1963, asking about the delay in recognizing the then newly formed Yemeni revolutionary government. Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad replied the recognition of a state is a mere formality, as the recognition has already been agreed upon, but the ministry felt for Kuwait’s best interest to delay the recognition, stressing that no foreign pressure has been a reason for the case.
Article 100 gives the right to members to address the Cabinet in an interpellation (grilling), which is a prolonged debate on an issue as long as it falls within the ministry’s competence, with an 8-day brief period given before the interpellation takes place. Usually, members request an interpellation should they believe a previously requested question was not adequately answered.
Subject to the provisions of articles 101 and 102 of the constitution, an interpellation may lead to a motion of no-confidence being put to the Assembly. Article 101 states “Every minister shall be responsible to the National Assembly for the affairs of his ministry”, and if a no-confidence vote is passed after an interpellation, the minister must submit a formal resignation. Ministers cannot participate in a vote of no-confidence, which passes by a majority vote by MPs.
As for article 102, it allows for the ability to file a non-cooperation request that would be delivered to HH the Amir, who would then decide to either dissolve the parliament or appoint a new prime minister. It states: “(If the new Assembly) cannot co-operate with the said prime minister, he shall be considered to have resigned as from the date of the decision of the Assembly in this respect, and a new Cabinet shall be formed.”
There have been 135 interpellations listed in the Assembly’s database to date, the first of which was an interpellation addressed to the social affairs and labor minister by late MP Mohammed Al-Rushaid regarding the distribution of 30 1,000 sq m plots in Adaliya.
The Kuwaiti parliament is clearly a harbor of freedom that should be exercised responsibly. If the constitution allows this much freedom for the monitoring of the executive body, it should be seen as a privilege that would accelerate the development of society and not hinder its progress for the sake of personal interests.
From the first interpellation in 1963 until 2006, there were a total of 35 interpellations, averaging 0.81 interpellations per year. In the period from 2007 to date, there have been 100 interpellations recorded, averaging 6.67 interpellations per year. The excessive increase in the number of interpellations points out there might be some misuse of this constitutional tool, with some grillings deemed personal rather than constructive. Interpellation is an effective tool rightfully granted by the constitution and its misuse can only result in the harm of the nation for the benefit of a few.