Stakeholders hope Kuwait can execute spending plans

11 August 2023

This month’s special report on Kuwait also includes: 

> ENERGYKuwait's $300bn energy target is a big test
> BANKINGKuwaiti banks enter bounce-back mode
> INTERVIEWKuwait’s Gulf Centre United sets course for expansion


 

Contractors in Kuwait hope that the country’s recently appointed cabinet will be able to execute spending plans without descending into political infighting.

Earlier this month, Kuwait’s National Assembly passed the 2023/24 budget, projecting the largest year of spending in the country’s history.

The budget projects spending at KD26.2bn ($85.2bn) and revenues at KD19.4bn, with a projected deficit of KD6.8bn. After the vote, the Assembly closed for its summer break to return in late October.

Speaking to lawmakers after the budget was approved, Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Nawaf al-Sabah thanked them for their cooperation and called for more collaboration in the next term when they return.

Key projects 

Joint action by the country’s politicians will be vital in executing spending plans and pushing through strategic infrastructure projects.

In July, Kuwait’s government submitted a four-year programme for major infrastructure projects to the National Assembly. The programme included 107 projects to be completed through to 2027.

Among the projects are Kuwait’s section of the GCC Railway project and Kuwait International airport’s Terminal 2, which is expected to increase the capacity for flights in and out of the country from 240,000 to 650,000 by building three new runways.

Other key projects included in the programme are a scheme to repair thousands of kilometres of roads and the long-delayed Mubarak al-Kabeer port expansion.

The container harbour on Boubiyan Island faces Iraq and is anticipated to have a capacity of 8.1 million containers when completed.

If all the oil and gas projects in the programme are executed as planned, the country’s oil production capacity will increase from 2.7 million barrels a day (b/d) to 3.15 million b/d.

At the same time, natural gas production will be increased from 521 million cubic feet a day (cf/d) to 930 million cf/d.

Inadequate spending

The programme could have significant economic benefits for Kuwait. However, many contractors within the country remain pessimistic about the chances of the plans being fulfilled.

In May this year, official figures issued by government agencies revealed a worryingly low level of government spending on development projects despite large budgets being allocated.

During the 2022/23 fiscal year, only KD470m was spent despite KD1.3bn being allocated for projects.

The expenditure rate of only 36 per cent for the 2022/23 fiscal year has sparked concerns that the recently announced spending plans for the next four years are also likely to fail to hit targets.

Unpredictable policies

Kuwait’s low expenditure rate was mainly driven by political gridlock that has stopped the government from making key decisions and giving the essential approvals needed to execute projects.

Kuwait has had three elections in three years, creating policy uncertainty that has significantly impacted businesses and progress on policy issues.

Due to the political gridlock, major contract awards have been scarce in Kuwait over recent years and dozens of businesses have been forced to take drastic action.

With so few major new contract awards, some international contractors have reduced staff levels in Kuwait, and many domestic businesses have started seeking work overseas in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar.

The government is very worried about potential electricity blackouts if one of the country’s power stations cannot operate for any reason

Power prioritised

While contract awards remain far below historic highs, a number of significant awards in the power and water sector in the first quarter of this year have increased optimism for some stakeholders.

The value of awarded projects in Kuwait for the first three months was KD527m ($1.7bn), more than four times as much as the same quarter the previous year.

This was mainly driven by activity in the power sector, which rose to its highest level in almost six years, according to the National Bank of Kuwait (NBK).

The jump in spending on the power sector came as the government tried to fend off possible electricity shortages.

One source said: “This was a form of emergency spending as the government is very worried about potential electricity blackouts if one of the country’s power stations cannot operate for any reason.”

A sector where major contract awards have remained very low is oil and gas, something that has worried analysts as Kuwait relies on this sector for more than 90 per cent of its revenues.

True test

In June, the prime minister named the country’s fifth cabinet in less than a year. The latest 15-person cabinet retained the prime minister and nine ministers from the previous cabinet in their old posts.

The new cabinet’s similarities with the last cabinet have fuelled concerns that it will be plagued by similar problems when it comes to pushing through spending plans.

However, the slight changes made have shifted the balance of the cabinet in a way that favours cooperation with the parliament, according to some contractors.

If cooperation can be fostered and we see a period where the government approves major projects, it could be transformational for the country.

Ultimately, the true test of whether Kuwait’s policymakers can work together to push through approvals for projects will come when they return to work after their summer break.

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Wil Crisp
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