Kuwait lacks any specific anti-corruption law and/or comprehensive whistleblower protection legislation.
2. Present legal environment
Article 36 and 37 of Kuwait’s constitution protects freedom of speech and the freedom of press, but only “in accordance with the conditions and in the circumstances defined by law”, however, these rights are not always respected in practice. An example of this is seen in the government’s restriction of speech freedoms, especially where national security is concerned. Material insulting Islam, the Emir, the constitution, or the neutrality of the courts or Public Prosecutor’s Office is specifically prohibited under the law. In 2009, the Kuwaiti government announced the first Five Year National Development Plan (2009-2014), which comprised five fundamental draft laws, including draft laws on anti-corruption and witness protection1.
In January 2013, the Kuwaiti National Assembly passed an anti-corruption and wealth decree, which provides penalties of up to seven years in prison for crimes including manipulation of public tenders and auctions, bribery, counterfeiting, forgery, and graft2. It also covers financial disclosure, money laundering, and calls for the establishment of a national anti-corruption authority. Following this, in June 2013, the Kuwait Council of Ministers approved a decree appointing seven members to the board of trustees of the first Anti-corruption Authority at state level in Kuwait3.
It is worth noting that the National Assembly has previously passed a bill to create an anti-corruption authority in 2011, a mere two days after the Emir’s speech demanding its creation. Despite this, the Authority had no visible activities in either 2011 or 2012, and its ability to operate was hindered by the multiple dissolutions of the Parliament, most recently in November 2012.
a. Public sector
No formal whistleblowing protection for public officials reporting corruption exists. According to a 2008 Global Integrity report, it is possible public service employees who sue their employer, or take their case to a member of Parliament or the press, may avoid negative consequences for reporting corruption4. Concerned public servants are able to consult the Public Prosecutor within the Attorney General’s department5.
In Kuwait, the Law of Protection of Public Funds6 provides that public sector employees who fail to report a crime related to abuse of public funds to the public prosecutor or the Audit Commission should face a minimum of 3 years imprisonment.
b. Private sector
No legal framework exists in the private sector to facilitate the reporting of wrongdoing. Despite this, private sector employees will often be afforded varying levels of protection, depending on their employer, e.g. a bank employee may receive a reward for reporting wrongdoing.
In December 2009, to comply with international agreements on combating corruption, Kuwait introduced to Parliament a draft law specifically dedicated to the protection of whistleblowers7, As of February 2014, there appears to be no developments in the passage of this legislation.
3. Political, economic, cultural environment
Like a number of Middle Eastern countries, Kuwait has been caught up in the Arab Spring and is experiencing a period of unparalleled instability. In Kuwait, the instability has taken the form of a series of parliamentary elections together with social unrest and mass public protests. The most recent parliamentary elections, the second in 8 months, were held on 27 July 2013 and were subject to boycott from opposition groups. Liberals made significant gains in the elections and Shiite candidates won only eight seats in the 50-member parliament, despite Shiites making up around a third of Kuwait’s population8.
As a result of the Arab Spring, Kuwaitis are demanding increased transparency and accountability from the Emir—the controller of the Kuwait’s budget and financial affairs—and a greater share of power. Frustration over these issues is escalating and, in recent times, has led to widespread public disobedience and violence9.
Kuwait’s economic success still heavily relies upon the oil industry, with oil products accounting for almost 50% of the GDP and in excess of 90% of government income. The rise in oil prices during 2011 and early 2012 led to a marked increase in government spending and economic growth. Kuwait’s Government have used income from oil revenues to significantly enhance the public education system and develop a comprehensive social security system10.
Despite the aforementioned large oil revenues, the Kuwaiti economy has been seriously affected by the global financial crisis. Further, economic policy-making has been derailed by disputes between the parliament and the ruling royal family.
4. Case examples of whistleblowing
No cases of whistleblower harassment are publicly known about in Kuwait.
5. Information environment
In April 2013 the Kuwaiti government adopted a draft law known as the Unified Media Law in an aim to replace 2006 Press and Publication Law and the 2007 Audio-Visual Media Law. The law was meant to pass the Kuwaiti Parliament in May 2013, however, it was put on hold after editors and journalists expressed concerns about it encroaching on press freedoms. Human Rights Watch said the law breached the international standard for the protection of free speech, and that it would criminalise political comment by creating offences such as “insulting” public officials, “disrespecting” the constitution and “offending the emir.”11
A draft access to information law was prepared by the Kuwait Transparency Society12. In October 2009, Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammed Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah announced that the cabinet had received a briefing from the Government Performance Follow-up body13 on the drafting of the law on access to information, and the findings of a study on the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption14.
Subsequently in September 2013, five members of the Kuwaiti Parliament jointly sponsored draft right-to-information legislation. The draft law deals, among other things, with public information recordkeeping requiring that authorities publish a simplified guide regarding the document keeping system and procedures for information requests. A number of planned national security and other exemptions are also included15. In February 2014 there is no news on the progress of this draft legislation.
6. Rule of law
Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy rather than an electoral democracy. Kuwait’s Emir—a hereditary position—has supreme power in the government system and appoints the prime minister and cabinet. The Emir is able to pass laws by decree when parliament is not in session, veto legislation, dismiss government ministers and dissolve parliament. Under Kuwait Constitution, the Emir shares legislative power with the 50-member National Assembly, which is elected to four-year terms by popular vote.
Kuwait lacks any specific whistleblowing legislation. The protection mechanisms that do exist are arbitrary and are not intended to protect whistleblowers. Individual companies may have protection mechanisms in place, however such information is difficult to locate.
Last modified: February 4 2014.
8 http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2013/07/27/Kuwait-holds-parliamentary-election-amid-bitter-divisions.html and http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2013/08/04/Kuwait-announces-new-Cabinet-names-after-parliamentary-polls.html
11 Draft Law on Access to Information, See, http://www.shafafeyah.org/index.php?ind=downloads&op=entry_view&iden=281 (Arabic)
A governmental body that follows up the compliance of ministries and governmental bodies with the laws and regulations in the implementation of public policies in accordance with the cabinet’s agenda.
13 See, http://www.aljareeda.com/AlJarida/Article.aspx?id=132116 (Arabic)