Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Kuwait’s MPs accord housing ‘Top Priority’

An informal meeting attended by 36 lawmakers yesterday decided that the housing crisis in the country, where families wait for as long as 15 years to get a home, must be accorded top priority in the National Assembly’s next term starting late next month. Assembly speaker Marzouk Al-Ghanim said after the meeting that the decision will not become official until after the National Assembly upholds the informal decision taken yesterday when it opens the new term on October 29.
Ghanim said the National Assembly should utilize its legislative and monitoring powers to help in resolving the housing crisis under which more than 107,000 families are on the waiting list for government houses and the number is increasing by around 9,000 new families every year.
Despite repeated promises to resolve the crisis, the government has failed to meet rising demand for houses over a variety of reasons, topped by a lack of enough land for housing – mainly as a result of allocating most of the country’s territory for oil exploration and production. The Assembly’s decision came after conducting a poll which showed that Kuwaitis overwhelmingly want that housing should be given top priority by their elected representatives.
Ghanim said, according the top priority to housing does not mean that MPs could ignore other important issues. He also called on the government to pay greater attention to housing. The speaker said that MPs look forward to provide the government with a new strategy to resolve the problem that includes a roadmap and targets that can be achieved within a defined timetable.
Ghanim said that MPs have demanded more coordination with the government and that there should be a parliamentary committee to tackle the issue of housing. A number of MPs who attended the meeting however said they were not very optimistic about the government ability and willingness to resolve the problem. The lawmakers urged the government to release more land for housing purposes and also called for breaking the oil company’s monopoly over 80 percent of Kuwait’s territory.
The focus over housing problem came after two youth groups launched two online campaigns to press the government and MPs to accord priority to speed up government plans to build homes for citizens. Nater Bait and Watab Beleejar campaigns have been urging Kuwaiti families waiting their turn for a house to participate in their activities to press the government to accelerate its plans.
Housing Minister Salem Al-Othaina told a special debate in the National Assembly that the government plans to build 174,000 houses by 2020 as a fundamental solution for the crisis. But many MPs doubted the minister’s plan, saying that the government is bowing to pressure by influential real estate dealers who want to keep prices very high.
The housing crisis originates from the scarcity of land for housing and the high price for land and houses to the extent that the cheapest house in Kuwait is worth close to KD 300,000 ($1 million) making it almost impossible for Kuwaitis to buy their own houses. Kuwaitis depend on the government which builds houses and distributes them to citizens for interest-free loans payable over 30 years. But the government construction is far too slow to meet rising demand.
In another development, the Criminal Court yesterday acquitted former opposition MP Mussallam Al-Barrak from the charge of defaming and insulting former Assembly Apeaker Jassem Al-Khorafi. Khorafi had sued Barrak over press statements that he had accused Khorafi of funding former MP Mohammad Al-Juwaihel who had repeatedly insulted Bedouin tribes and the Kuwaiti political opposition.  Barrak denied the charge, saying that the newspaper which published the statements had fabricated the accusations.

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