Lawmakers seek special debate on expat numbers

Bill calls to lower voting age to 18

MP Abdulkareem Al-Kandari

KUWAIT: Opposition MP Abdulkarim Al-Kandari said yesterday he has begun collecting signatures of other MPs to demand holding a special debate in the Assembly to discuss the dangers of the rising numbers of expatriates in the country. Kandari, who criticized expatriates while commenting on the Amiri speech last week, said he expects the debate to be held in February to discuss the implications of the growth in expatriate numbers on the demographic structure.

He said the Assembly wants to know the position of the government regarding this issue and its planned measures to deal with the imbalance in the demographic structure, adding that Kuwaitis should not remain a minority in their own country. According to the latest official statistics, there are around 3.1 million expatriates in Kuwait from a total population of 4.4 million, or 70 percent of the population. Kuwaitis number 1.33 million or 30 percent of the population.

Kandari’s move comes a few days after MP Safaa Al-Hashem demanded that the government should take the necessary measures to balance the population within three years by hiking the cost of living for expatriates in the private sector and imposing a variety of taxes on them. Hashem and other MPs failed to say how the government will achieve this difficult task when the Kuwaiti workforce in the private sector makes up just five percent of the 1.6 million workers and employees. They also failed to say how will the government deal with the problem of maids, who have increased to just under 700,000. Several lawmakers have proposed key measures to reduce the number of foreigners in Kuwait by getting rid of around one million expats within five years.

Expatriates have come under tremendous pressure since oil prices began to fall in mid-2014, as most of the government’s steps to raise non-oil revenue targeted expatriates while sparing citizens. The government plans to increase electricity and water charges on expatriates from August, while it has decided to raise medical service fees from next month only on foreigners.

In a related development, MP Riyadh Al-Sane asked Minister of Oil and Electricity and Water Essam Al-Marzouq if the ministry has conducted a study on the impact of raising power charges on inflation in the country. Sane and several other lawmakers had already submitted draft laws calling to scrap a law raising electricity charges and a decision hiking the price of petrol. The Assembly’s financial and economic affairs committee is expected to start debating these draft laws next week.

Meanwhile, MP Majed Al-Mutairi yesterday submitted a draft law proposing two key amendments to the election law. The bill proposes to lower the voting age to 18 years from the current 21 and for allowing servicemen and women, who are barred from voting, to cast their vote. Mutairi said lowering the voting age and allowing servicemen to vote will enfranchise a large section of citizens and broaden democratic participation.

By B Izzak

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