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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Kuwaiti “nurse state”

27 April, 2010 - 00:00

In Ukraine many people know that the small but wealthy Persian Gulf country of Kuwait is a real “nurse state.” Right after birth a decent sum of money with several zeros is transferred to a citizen’s account which they can use after reaching full age. Education, including higher education, is free. So is medical care, and in case of necessity the state will pay for treatment abroad. When getting married, citizens also get money and a dwelling for the future family from the state. Finally, the state will also pay for the funeral. Indeed, the state takes care of a Kuwaiti from crib to grave.

Kuwait is a monarchy combined with parliamentary democracy. What attracts attention of an outside observer is that the reason of most conflicts of parliament and the government is precisely the issue of money payments to the population. The controversy is obvious: the government tries to invest more money from selling oil in the fund for future generations and development, while deputies traditionally demand distributing more actual money from that oil pie. Ten years ago the editor in chief of the leading newspaper Al Abna, Bibi Al-Mazdruk, told me with pride how the newspaper successfully lobbied the law about the redemption of the population’s debts, despite the fact that it contradicted interests of her father, who is a financier and the owner of the newspaper: “My brothers and I told him everything directly. And he answered: if it is good for the country, I yield my personal interests.”

Currently the parliament prepares to adopt a law about issuing to each citizen 5,000 dinars (about 20,000 dollars) so that Kuwaitis would pay the debts they had accumulated during the crisis and later were unable to return. The government treated the initiative quite coolly at first but now is glad that the current bill is still better than the previous one, according to which deputies suggested the government to undertake all debts of Kuwaitis – in this case, about 20 billion dollars would be taken from the budget.

Economists warn that such care will lead not only to inflation and price incrases, but will also aggravate the feeling of dependence. The famous economist Amer Al-Tamimi insists on the categorical assistance only for those who are really in trouble.

The new 400-page report of the so-called Blair commission also calls for ceasing the practice of the “nurse state.” The government invited the former British prime minister to study the situation and elaborate recommendations. Generally, observers treated such a choice very sarcastically, reminding about how infamous his resignation was in his own country. They assessed the evaluations and advice of Blair’s team no less pessimistically, saying that they didn’t learn anything new and that the whole text of the report consisted of the known documents of the government and analytical centers. However, here the main thing is not the fact who was the first to issue alarming forecasts but the frankness and openness of their public discussion. For if oil prices drop, the country will have a budget deficit of dozens of billions of dollars, and in 20 years it can be on the edge of bankruptcy altogether.

And here the government, which is ready to undertake the suggested measures to cut expenses, is again involved in a conflict with the parliament whose members prefer to continue taking care only of the social wealth distribution in order to please their voters.

In this situation the role of emir of Kuwait, sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, as the supreme arbiter comes into picture. For no one dares to oppose the strategic goal he set in his address to the current National Assembly (parliament) — making Kuwait a world financial and trade center by 2035.

Another apocalyptical scenario openly discussed is the prognosis of the Food and Agriculture Organization that already in 2015 the country can face famine. Against the background of today’s wealth of Kuwaitis this looks like nonsense, but they treated the prognosis very seriously. In a few days, the first conference on food security will be held in the capital amid warnings observers send to the government cautioning it against making it a pro-forma activity for a bureaucratic report and urging it to work out recommendations for practical actions. 

The countries of the Persian Gulf remembered the world food crisis of 2007 very well. Their special concern was provoked by the behavior of exporting countries, including Ukraine, which then stopped delivering food to the world market. Currently the governments of the Gulf are looking for possibilities to conclude long-term contracts for using agricultural lands in other countries, particularly in Ukraine. The scheme is as follows: lessees invest in growing agricultural cultures they need, supply the necessary machinery, employ the local population, and instead receive guarantees of unimpeded and duty-free export of the grown production. Kuwait conducted such negotiations, too. However, as the ambassador of Kuwait in Ukraine Mansour Al-Olaimi diplomatically says, “We must confess that the legislative framework in Ukraine doesn’t fully assist our investments in this sector.”

To make Kuwait an agricultural country (in this desert country only one percent of land is suitable for agriculture) is the task the Kuwaiti Fund for Science Development has been working on. This structure under the patronage of the emir accumulates costs of private business to give grants for scientific research – dozens of millions of dollars per year. Every participating company gives the fund one percent of its profits. What is interesting, the list of these benefactor companies is not mentioned in the official materials of the fund: charity in Islamic business is a natural duty, rather than an opportunity to get media coverage.

“The deficit of food products is already felt,” says Abdulaziz Abduljamin, the Fund’s public relations director. “That is why we must reach self-sustainment.” Scientists have already adapted thousands of plants to the local climate; research into water desalination and its use in agriculture continues; and they don’t avoid genetically modified plants, either. The Fund finances projects not only in the Arabic region, but also in the universities of Europe and Northern America. A year ago, they say, there was a delegation of scientists from Ukraine who promised to submit their applications for research financing. But the Fund has not receive them yet. “We’re especially interested in cooperation with Ukraine in the medical domain,” says Abdulaziz. “We know about Ukrainian experience in curing diabetes and eye diseases. The growing number of Ukrainian doctors works in Kuwaiti hospitals, above all in military ones, and they are in very good standing.”

At present, the scope of trade between the two countries is rather small, but the reputation of Ukraine in Kuwaiti society is very positive, above all, owing to humanitarian diplomacy. Hundreds of Kuwaiti children with cerebral palsy have taken a treatment course and shown considerable improvement in the hospital of the Ukrainian professor Volodymyr Ko­ziavkin. Meanwhile, gratitude is an intrinsic feature of a Kuwaiti. 

By Ihor Slisarenko, Al Kuwait