The Many Tentacles Of Kuwait’s ‘Kleptocracy’

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Kleptocracy is a form of political corruption that refers to a state in which politicians exploit natural resources in order to stay in power. Does that sound similar to something that’s been happening in Kuwait these days?

To answer “Yes” would be to disregard the nature of Kuwait’s society as an Arab and Muslim caretaker ethos.

It is written in our Holy Book as Muslims that people should spend their wealth towards the benefit of the larger society whenever they can. Religiously, it’s Zakat, where the Muslims pay their annual tax either directly to people in need (at the discretion of the Zakat payer)or in some cases towards a central collections authority that then distributes it to betterment of the society, by way of social development, through schools, hospitals, mosques, homes, etc…Wealthy people with hearts of gold race each other to build something that would benefit society, especially in Kuwait. Examples range from renovating hospital wards, building schools, educational endowments and scholarships, all the way to providing free housing and job opportunities.

To answer “NO” would be to ignore the fact that Kuwait’s wealth is solely built upon one natural resource: Oil.

This resource is controlled by the state, its production and sale is controlled by the state, and the revenue it generates is distributed by the state, the distribution process is performed by way of paid salaries, social allowances and benefits. There is no “Free Money” in the Government’s Monetary cycle. This means that anyone who works for the state will earn enough money to stay safe and housed, but would never earn enough money to become rich enough to run for political office.

So the first question in this logic is, how does a Kuwaiti Politician become a Kleptocrat in a supposed Democracy?

The First route is the simplest: Active Networking. You make enough friends and acquaintances to build a large enough network of supporters that would vote you into office. How that happens is too lengthy for this post, but think “Tribal/Sectarian/Primary Elections” and you get the picture. They would then support you financially and politically.

The Second route is more difficult: Passive Networking. You build up your reputation as a capable and fierce supporter of justice and equality so much that it becomes visible to the masses, who will turn towards you for assistance and guidance. You then make your way up to the top, only this time it’s due to your hard work and reputation, not your connections and affiliations. This is a textbook example of how a Democracy should be held; the power of the people would select the most ideal candidate to represent them, based on principles, morale standing and reputation.

The Third route is Nomination: An individual or a group would appoint you as their representative, and would then mobilize all of their resources to support you into office. Once there, you’d be doing their bidding as their representative in Government. It’s closely connected to Active Networking, but without the means nor the skills to to so. This may be acceptable in may Democracies, especially where Political parties and affiliations are admissible.

The Fourth route is Hereditary: You’re born into government and rule by association. Examples include Kingdoms, Sheikhdoms and hereditary Republics. Your Mommy or Daddy ruled over everyone, and when they die, their authority reverts to you, barring the presence of any legal framework that would prevent, undermine or limit the extent your authority (such as a Constitution).

The Fifth and Final route is Money: You buy your way into Politics. This is the most corrupt and dangerous route into politics. Your constituents are composed of paid mouths who will sing your praises for a fee, or people already in power that you have packed into your shirt pocket, or legal representatives who will manipulate the Law in order to facilitate your ascension to Political power.

In this context, consider all the present Members of Parliament and the Government currently in office, would any of them fall under a different category? Hardly! Some of them are an actual and clear embodiment of some or all of these descriptions.

Case in Point: HADAS, Salafists, Popular Action Bloc, National Democratic Alliance, they’re all political affiliations and de-facto political parties who nominate the most suitable candidate from among them and support this candidate into office to represent them. The problem is, these parties do not enjoy the benefit of a legal acknowledgement under the current Kuwaiti Law, nor do they represent the masses in terms of their political agenda, but, rather simply, they enjoy the generalized affiliation of the masses who have shared principles and the perceived moral standing of their members.

In other words, “I’m a Salafist, so I’ll vote for XX the Salafist in my constituency“, or “I’ve taken out a large Bank Loan, so I’ll vote for the Popular Action Bloc whose agenda will force the Government to write off all Consumer Loans“. Generally speaking, it’s as simple as that!

On the other had, those in Government, namely those in the “Hereditary” offices, will strive to protect their personal and political interests from those that strive to attack them, so they utilize their wealth and political power in order to attain their goals. Currently, MP Faisal Al Muslim is trying to prove this is the case with the Prime Minister.

MP Al Muslim raises a difficult question: If you’re not from a wealthy merchant family, but you’ve managed to use your personal wealth to protect your political position in Government, taking into account that you’re only source of income ‘should have been’ your salary, how can you afford to spend so much money to protect your interests? But the MP raises yet another question: If you’ve risen only from among the masses within your tribal, sectarian or regular connections – who support and assist your endeavors – what gives you the right to attack the Prime Minister in the name of the People with documents you’ve obtained under shady circumstances?! I believe that MP Al Muslim was trying to prove that the Prime Minister was a Kleptocrat, who usurps his position, power and wealth in order to control and manipulate the Parliament.

As a person who has intimate knowledge of the Kuwaiti Banking Sector, I’m fully aware of the legal penalties that entail the exposure of private information and/or documents within the Bank; I have seen, first-hand, what happens to people who do ‘these things’, willingly or otherwise. Not only is it in complete violation of the employee’s contract with the bank, let alone sickeningly unprofessional, but more seriously, it’s a betrayal of the employer, the people and shareholders you work for, and may well get you into prison, destroying your reputation completely without even the slightest chance of redemption.

Constitutionally, if proven correct, the documents pertinent to this case allude to a clause within Article 111 of the Kuwaiti Constitution, which states:

“Article 111: Except in cases of flagrante delicto, no measures of inquiry, search, arrest, detention, or any other penal measure may be taken against a member while the Assembly is in session, except with the authorisation of the Assembly.” (“Flagrante delicto” means “Caught in the act of a misdeed”).

I’m no lawyer, but I imagine that if it’s proven that the documents in MP Al Muslim’s possession are authentic, it stands to reason that they have reached him via unauthorized means, which means clearly he’s caught red-handed in the crime of possessing private and personal documents. Moreover, he would also be guilty of committing a crime by association of the person who had given him these documents in the first place, and if both these crimes are proven against MP Al Muslim in court, they make the case against the Prime Minster completely illegal since the evidence against him was obtained illegally, and is therefore inadmissible in court.

What remains in question is where did the money came from? Let’s assume I’m one of those tree-hugging-love all-live all-people who claim that if it were from the Prime Minister’s personal funds, then so be it; he’s a kind-hearted person who likes to spend his wealth helping people (and it’s his personal wealth that he’s using) so any suspicion of misusing public funds gets thrown out the window. But then again, why pay an MP (he did not run for reelection this time) when that person has no clear use for that amount of money? His income is secured by way of his pension from the Parliament, so he’s pretty well financed and secured. Moreover, many former MP’s become board members of private companies, with very beefy salaries, or revert back to the family business, if one exists. So what’s this payment all about?

And finally, what gives MP Al Muslim – a representative of the people – the right to use illegally obtained documents as ‘evidence’ against the Prime Minister’s ”misuse of public funds”? If anything, this case proves what I’ve been blogging about all along; Proper reforms come from proper voting. Representation should be based on holistic needs and demands, not sectarian nor tribal agendas. MP Al Muslim may have shocked the state’s perceptions of the extent of corruption, some may say, but others may also claim that he’s unsuccessfully tried to prove what we all know; People in Power are liable to be corrupt, no matter what side of the law they may be standing on. His Immunity as an MP made him believe he’s untouchable, while simultaneously trying to prove the same about the Prime Minister.

Power corrupts – and absolute power corrupts absolutely – and that goes for MP Al Muslim too!

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