Kuwait MPs to quiz oil, finance ministers

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Finance Minister Mustafa Shamali.

Finance Minister Mustafa Shamali.

Two Kuwaiti lawmakers said on Monday they were planning to question the country's oil and finance ministers, a move that could reignite tensions between parliament and government in the Gulf Arab state after a brief respite.

Kuwait's elected parliament has been caught in a long-running power struggle with the appointed government, in which ruling family members hold some top posts - a standoff that has delayed reforms and investment in the oil producer.

Elections in December - the country's fifth in six years - brought in a new set of lawmakers who many analysts expected would be more cooperative with the government.

But the news some MPs were already planning to use the assembly's limited powers to call cabinet ministers in for questioning - a tactic used in past showdowns - suggested the confrontation might be about to resurface.

MP Nawaf al-Fuzai said he had submitted a request to question Oil Minister Hani Hussein in parliament, state news agency KUNA reported.

Issues Fuzai wanted to tackle included alleged links between a partner of Kuwait's state oil group and an Israeli company and the 2008 collapse of a planned petrochemicals joint venture with Dow Chemical, the agency said.

Fuzai and another MP, Saadoun Hammad al-Otaibi, had also asked to question Finance Minister Mustafa Shamali about whether there would be a write-off of interest on bank loans taken out by Kuwaitis, a policy idea backed by several MPs, KUNA said.

Along with blocking legislation, such "grilling" sessions are one of the main ways MPs assert their influence and have in the past led to no confidence votes that can oust a minister.

Shamali, a finance ministry veteran, was forced to step down last year after a similar session and in 2011 the prime minister, a ruling family member, resigned after pressure from parliament and the street.

With its generous welfare state, Kuwait has managed to avoid the kind of upheaval seen in Arab Spring countries but the political row intensified last year when opposition lawmakers dominated parliament. Most of them boycotted December's vote.

In the run-up to that election, Kuwait saw frequent opposition street protests over changes to the voting system introduced by Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

Critics of the parliament say MPs have used grilling requests to settle personal scores and impress their constituencies where politicians tend to campaign on an independent platform because political parties are banned.

MPs argue they are holding ministers to account in a country where they say the government, hand-picked by the prime minister, has failed to push forward with development.

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