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Kuwait emir says 'old concepts' must change, urges reform

Kuwaiti PM Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al-Sabah promises major moves aimed at developing and reforming oil-rich Gulf country

AFP , Tuesday 29 Oct 2013
Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad
Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad arrives for the GCC summit, in Sakhir, south of Manama, December 25, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)
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Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah called Tuesday for comprehensive reforms in the oil-rich Gulf state, saying it was time to change old concepts.

"It is time to launch a new decisive phase and a major qualitative move aimed at achieving comprehensive reforms and complete development" programmes, the ruler said at the opening of the parliament that was elected in July amid a bitter political crisis.

The emir's announcement comes a day after the government said it planned to review subsidy policies and charges on public services and commodities.

"It has become necessary to rectify old concepts ... It's time to adopt a new work methodology," the 85-year-old ruler said.

Also speaking at the session, Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al-Sabah said that "comprehensive reforms have become an urgent national necessity."

The OPEC country generates around 94 percent of its income from oil, most of which is spent on wages, subsidies, defence and security.

In a four-year programme presented to parliament on Monday, the government warned that if no reforms are undertaken, the country will start posting real budget deficits in 2021 and this could accumulate to hit a staggering $1.46 trillion by 2035.

The government programme argued that there is an urgent need to reduce subsidies on fuel, electricity and water and raise charges on public services which are offered to citizens for free or at highly-subsidised rates.

Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund urged Kuwait to contain public spending, which has trebled in seven years, to avoid risks from a drop in crude prices.

Kuwait has boasted a budget surplus in each of the past 13 fiscal years, accumulating around $300 billion, whereas the size of its sovereign wealth fund has increased to over $400 billion.

The Kuwaiti parliament was elected in July in the second polls in under eight months after the constitutional court dissolved the previous house over procedural flaws.

It was the second legislature to be dissolved in a year in the same way and for the same reason.

The July 27 polls were boycotted by most of the Islamist, nationalist and liberal opposition groups for the second time in a row in protest over an amendment to the key electoral law.

It was also the sixth election in the past seven years due to continued political disputes between MPs and the ruling family-led government.

Kuwait, which says it sits on 10 percent of global oil reserves, pumps around three million barrels of crude per day. It has a citizen population of 1.23 million and 2.67 million expatriate residents.

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