KUWAIT CITY — The parliament of the wealthy Gulf state of Kuwait on Wednesday unanimously passed legislation to grant cash and free food to Kuwaiti citizens totalling over $5 billion to mark national occasions.
The grants, made last week by Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, stipulate paying 1,000 dinars ($3,580) to each Kuwaiti citizen plus free distribution of essential food items for 14 months.
The cash grant will be paid to 1.155 million Kuwaiti citizens on February 24 while distribution of food will start February 1 and last until March 31 next year.
All 53 MPs present approved the law, which does not apply to the 2.4 million foreign residents in the country.
The Gulf state, whose financial assets top $300 billion, will next month mark the golden jubilee of independence, 20th anniversary of liberation from Iraqi occupation and the five years of the emir's ascendance to power.
Several MPs called on the government to take necessary measures to prevent merchants from exploiting the grant by raising prices which have been increasing over the past few months.
Independent MP Saleh Ashour said the prices of some food products had increased in that time by more than 35 percent.
Commerce and Industry Minister Ahmad al-Harun told the house that the ministry "will not allow merchants to exploit paying the grant to increase prices."
Inflation in Kuwait soared to 5.9 percent in November, the highest in 20 months on the back of high food prices which rose by 12.3 percent.
The fifth-largest producer in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Kuwait has posted budget surpluses in each of the past 11 fiscal years, totalling more than $140 billion. It is also headed for another healthy surplus this year thanks to rising oil price.
The government has made similar but smaller grants in the past.
The Gulf Arab state provides a cradle-to-grave welfare system to its citizens who receive most public services and petrol at heavily subsidised prices and pay no income tax.
Some 80 percent of Kuwait's 360,000-strong national workforce is employed in government jobs, where the average monthly wage is more than $3,500.
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