Omar Hasan, AFP
Last updated: 19 October, 2011

Kuwaiti ruler urged to dismiss PM over graft

Kuwaiti MPs and activists Wednesday urged the ruler of the oil-rich Gulf state to sack the prime minister, charging he is responsible for widespread corruption and deterioration of services.

In the biggest anti-government rally so far, over 10,000 protesters cheered loudly as speaker after speaker strongly lashed out at Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, a nephew of the emir.

“Your highness, corruption under the governments of Sheikh Nasser has reached new highs … Your highness the country is at risk … the premier does not deserve to stay,” said Islamist MP Faisal al-Muslim, addressing the emir.

“The people want to see the departure of Sheikh Nasser and parliament as well,” said the opposition lawmaker.

Since Sheikh Nasser was appointed prime minister in February 2006, he has been under strong pressure from opposition groups to quit. He has so far survived several confidence votes in parliament.

The opposition-sponsored protests have been launched in the wake of an unprecedented multi-million-dollar graft scandal involving around 15 MPs in the 50-member parliament and possibly government officials.

The public prosecutor last month opened a probe into the accounts of those MPs suspected of receiving around $350 million in “political bribes,” according to opposition lawmakers.

The scandal has already forced Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Sabah to resign after leading opposition MP Mussallam al-Barrak accused the government of making huge illegal overseas transfers through Kuwaiti embassies.

“Sheikh Nasser is incompetent and can not be trusted to lead the government,” charged Barrak at the rally. “We (the opposition) will never meet with him.”

Barrak charged that the office of the prime minister made 485 “suspicious money transfers” mostly to Geneva, London and New York, since April 2006, estimated at dozens of millions of dollars.

He used the projector to show classified documents of the transfers.

Islamist activist Hamad al-Matar said the opposition rallies will continue until the fall of the government as he welcomed the resignation of the former foreign minister and urged other cabinet members to step down.

Speakers also charged the government of giving the bribes to MPs and some called for dissolving parliament and for a snap election.

Corruption has been on the rise in this oil-rich emirate which amassed more than $200 billion of budget surpluses over the past 12 fiscal years, thanks to high crude price.

Between 2003 and 2009, the emirate slipped 31 places to 66th position on the Berlin-based Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index among 178 nations.

In 2010, however, it improved 12 places to the 54th position but still came last among the six energy-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.

Kuwait, OPEC’s third largest producer, has been rocked by a series of political crises between the opposition and the government, stalling development despite the abundant oil-driven wealth.