Panel votes to keep membership of jailed MPs
KUWAIT: Just back from an International Parliamentary Conference where she was elected as a deputy committee chairman, MP Safa Al-Hashem didn’t waste much time in calling again for taxing expatriates for the air they breathe in the country. Hashem, the only female member in the 50-seat Assembly, said that “expatriates must be charged for everything, for medical services, infrastructure and again I say for the air they breathe here”.
The lawmaker was objecting to a proposal by the government to study a taxation law as part of the government development plan. “It will be applied on Kuwaitis only on my dead body” screamed Hashem at a press conference in the National Assembly after attending a meeting for the committee entrusted to find jobs for Kuwaitis by replacing expatriate jobs.
She insisted that no taxation or charges will be imposed on Kuwaitis before the government amends the highly demographic structure which is highly in favor of expatriates, saying there are just under 1.4 million Kuwaitis for as many as 3.2 million expatriates. She said that the government must first find jobs for the 14,000 unemployed Kuwaitis and tackle the problem of over 110,000 illiterate expatriates in the country, asking “why are they here in the first place”.
In the meantime, the National Assembly Legal and Legislative Committee voted yesterday to maintain the membership of two lawmakers despite receiving final jail sentences triggering a constitutional and political controversy. The Cassation Court in July sentenced MPs Waleed Al-Tabtabai and Jamaan Al-Harbash to jail along with 13 former MPs and opposition activists for entering the National Assembly building during a protest in November 2011.
MP Mohammad Al-Dallal said the committee’s decision, taken by five votes against two, was based on articles in the constitution, the election law and the internal charter of the National Assembly. He said these articles clearly give the National Assembly the right to debate whether to revoke the membership of lawmakers or not, adding that the Assembly used the same articles to keep the membership of MP Khalaf Dumaither after he was convicted in a final court order.
Chairman of the committee MP Al-Humaidi Al-Subaie said the panel discussed two opinions: one saying the Assembly can discuss the issue and take decision while the other stressed the membership of the two lawmakers has been lost automatically after they were handed the jail term.
He said the panel however supported the first opinion and its report will be sent to the national assembly for a vote tomorrow when the assembly opens its new term. The two lawmakers who opposed the decision Ahmad Al-Fadhl and Khaled Al-Shatti cried foul insisting that it is a clear breach of the constitution and Kuwaiti laws. MP Shatti even claimed that the government has instructed “its lawmakers” to vote in favor of the decision. The final decision will be taken by all MPs including the cabinet ministers and to survive the Tabtabai and Harbash need a simple majority of the house.
In the meantime, opposition MP Abdulwahab Al-Babtain said yesterday that 12 MPs met yesterday and decided to form a bloc to support the two lawmakers to maintain their seats in the assembly. Tabtabai and Harbash, who have been living in Turkey since the verdict was issued, thanked the committee for its decision on their respective Twitter accounts. If the assembly agrees to keep their membership, they will enjoy parliamentary immunity and can return to Kuwait and participate in the works of the Assembly.