Kuwaiti government resigns amid serious economic crisis

The resignation of the cabinet, formed on December 14, had been expected after lawmakers submitted a motion asking to question the premier over issues including the makeup of the cabinet.
Tuesday 12/01/2021
Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah speaks at the first parliament session held after elections, in Kuwait City, Kuwait, December 15, 2020. (Reuters)
Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah speaks at the first parliament session held after elections, in Kuwait City, Kuwait, December 15, 2020. (Reuters)

KUWAIT CITY – Kuwaiti ministers handed in their resignations to the prime minister on Tuesday, the government communications office (CGC) said, days after lawmakers submitted a motion asking to question the premier over issues including the makeup of the cabinet.

Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah must submit the resignations to the OPEC member state’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, for approval.

The Arab Weekly and three main Kuwaiti newspapers previously reported that Sheikh Sabah was expected to hand in the resignations.

The resignation of the cabinet, formed on December 14, had been expected after the move in parliament earlier this month that posed the first political challenge for the new emir as the country faces its worst economic crisis in decades.

— At the heart of the crisis —

The prime minister had been due to be questioned at a parliamentary session on January 19.

The CGC said the government submitted its resignation “in light of developments in the relationship between the National Assembly and the government,” but did not elaborate.

The motion to question Sheikh Sabah, who has been premier since late 2019, was submitted by three MPs on January 5 in the first regular session of a new assembly in which the opposition made gains after two thirds of lawmakers lost seats in legislative polls last year.

More than 30 other MPs supported the request to question him on issues including forming a cabinet “not reflective” of poll results and allegations of government “interference” in electing the Speaker and members of parliamentary committees, according to the motion.

Kuwait boasts the most open political system in the Gulf region, with a parliament wielding power to pass legislation and question ministers, although senior posts are occupied by ruling family members.

Frequent rows and deadlocks between the cabinet and parliament have led to successive government reshuffles and parliamentary breakdowns, hampering investment and economic and fiscal reform.

The rise of Sheikh Sabah to the presidency of the Council of Ministers was itself the result of an acute crisis in the government of his predecessor, Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah, who resigned in November 2019 over corruption charges and sharp differences between two of its ministers.

In December, the Kuwaiti emir decided to respect his predecessor’s choice and entrusted the formation of a new government to Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled, who has significant experience in government work.

The two authorities’ instability poses difficulties for the Kuwaiti emir, who does not have the experience and charisma of his predecessor, who previously helped overcome severe political crises in the country.

During parliament’s inauguration on December 15, Sheikh Nawaf said that there is a need to devise a comprehensive reform programme to help the country deal with the worst economic crisis in decades. He also warned that there was no time to create new problems.

— A blow to reform —

Two-thirds of the members of the former National Assembly lost their seats in recent elections, while opposition candidates scored significant gains, which analysts say may hamper the government’s efforts to implement financial reforms to tackle the country’s cradle-to-grave welfare system.

The Kuwaiti economy, which is mainly dependent on a single resource, oil, faces a $46 billion deficit this fiscal year, which ends in March, according to former Finance Minister Barak al-Sheitan.

To overcome this dilemma, the government is seeking to pass a public debt bill that allows it to borrow $66 billion over 20 years, a project that was rejected by the former parliament.

The country is now facing a severe liquidity crunch caused by low oil prices and the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.