Panel to amend charter over jailed MPs; pension bill sent back for study

KUWAIT: The National Assembly yesterday asked its legal and legislative committee to study within two weeks an amendment to the Assembly’s internal charter stipulating to ban sending MPs to jail without a final court ruling. The resolution was passed by the Assembly following a tense debate over the jailing of opposition MPs Jamaan Al-Harbash and Waleed Al-Tabtabaei after they were convicted along with 65 activists for storming the Assembly six years ago. The lower court had acquitted all the 70 defendants, but the appeals court passed harsh sentences, sending 67 of them to jail including three MPs and several former lawmakers.

MPs yesterday criticized the government and the interior ministry in particular for taking action against the two MPs while they enjoyed parliamentary immunity. They insisted that the two should not have been sent to jail without a final court ruling by the court of cassation. The government however said it had no hand in the issue as it was asked by the judicial authority to arrest the convicts and jail them based on the court ruling, insisting that MPs are treated like common people after they have been stripped off their immunity.

Opposition MP Shuaib Al-Muwaizri clashed with Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem after Muwaizri vowed to complain to the International Parliamentary Union for jailing the lawmakers. Muwaizri stressed that all the procedures taken by the government in this case are wrong and that the jailing of the two MPs is a violation of the constitution. Several MPs called for referring the entire issue to the constitutional court to decide whether MPs can be sent to jail or not. But the Assembly finally settled to amend the internal charter.

Opposition MPs also called on the interior minister to take action against jail officials who allegedly mistreated some of the prisoners and stressed they will discuss the allegations at the human rights committee. Several MPs insisted during the debate that those who stormed the Assembly are honest nationalists who took the action while protesting against corruption, but added that it was a mistake to storm the building.

In the other case, the Assembly agreed to send back a controversial bill on early retirement to a committee for further studies, which will estimate the cost of the measure to reduce the retirement age. The bill stipulates reducing the retirement age for Kuwaiti male employees to 50 years and women after 20 years of service. The government said the law is too costly and will disrupt future payments to pensioners.

Finance Minister Nayef Al-Hajraf said that the payment to pensioners surged from just KD 212 million 25 years ago to as much as KD 2.2 billion in 2016. He said that the age reduction will cost the state around KD 3.5 billion, reminding that the lowest retirement age in the world is 60 years for men and 55 for women. Head of the budgets committee MP Adnan Abdulsamad said studies by the Audit Bureau show that it is better for the country to reduce the retirement age. The Assembly will meet again on Jan 23.

By B Izzak

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