Manama: A Kuwaiti minister who faced a barrage of criticism over allegedly recruiting her relatives to work in the ministry of labour and social affairs has challenged her detractors to prove their claims.
“I challenge anyone to prove that I have hired my relatives in leading positions within the ministry,” Dhikra Al Rasheed said. “My sister, a general supervisor at the education ministry, was employed by the ministry at the start of the year through a one-year contract endorsed by the civil service.”
Accusations made by some lawmakers and in the media claimed that Dhikra was guilty of corruption practices and nepotism and that she hired her own sister as a consultant and several other relatives.
“It is obvious that raising this issue is meant to stain my political reputation and to undermine my commitment to the constitution. All the allegations are baseless and lack credibility,” said Dhikra, one of two women given a ministerial portfolio in the new-look government formed following the parliamentary elections on July 27. In her statement, the minister attributed the confusion about the appointments to the family name of some of the new recruits.
“There are those who confuse, either through benign or malign intentions, between my relatives and members of the Rashayda tribe,” she said. “Everybody should know that the members of the Rashayda tribe are an integral component of the Kuwaiti society and that their numbers are in the tens of thousands. Some of them work in the ministry, like other employees. People should not believe that because I am a member of this tribe all of these employees are my relatives. It is an honour that I do not unfortunately have, but they are not necessarily my relatives.”
Dhikra added that the campaign targeting her character would not weaken her resolve to combat administrative corruption. “I will move forward in my fight to address all cases of corruption that have plagued the labour market. People are thankfully aware of who stands behind them,” she said.
Several Kuwaitis have charged that the onslaught on Dhikra was not motivated by a keen interest in administrative reforms but rather by a drive to discredit her after publicly pledging to reform the labour market and help put an end to the highly lucrative business of trafficking in residence visas and work permits associated with the controversial sponsorship system.
Under the system, foreigners cannot go and work in Kuwait or switch jobs unless they are sponsored by a local company or citizen. Traffickers often misuse the system to obtain work permits for fake companies or non-existent jobs and sell them to unskilled foreigners lured by fast financial gains in the Gulf. However, most of the labourers, once they are in Kuwait, do not find the promised positions and are forced to take up hard tasks or to do odd jobs to survive and pay their financial dues both in their home and host countries. They often end up living without valid papers and spend a lot of their time evading police checks.
According to reports in Kuwait City, around 90,000 foreigners live illegally in Kuwait where expatriates make up two-thirds of the total population of around 3.4 million.
Last year, Dhikra said that local labour reforms called for sending one million foreigners home over a ten-year period.