Interview :Yousef Mohammed Al Ali
How will new e-government procedures being rolled out serve to shorten both inter- and intra-ministerial communications and processes?
YOUSEF MOHAMMED AL ALI: A crucial step being taken, and one which is ever more important in today’s digital world, is the setting up of the Kuwait Business Centre by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in a concerted effort to ease the process of obtaining commercial licences. The Kuwait Business Centre, both through its physical location in Eshbelia and online, has the aim of being a one-stop shop for those looking to establish and open a new company. Online services available include easy access to new and existing laws which are relevant to establishing a business, as well as the ability to enquire about application and licensing processes or about the status of existing requests digitally, rather than having to go to the ministry itself. The centre’s physical location is also fully integrated and is designed to be a place where one can go to finish and sign all the paperwork required rather than making several trips to the relevant government authorities involved. Furthermore, to improve inter-ministerial communications, all ministries in Kuwait are now connected through an online portal which allows for business licence applications to be easily accessed by all parties and actioned within 24 hours.
What are some of the factors that account for Kuwait’s relatively low ease of doing business metrics, and how are these being addressed?
AL ALI: Although there remains room for improvement in Kuwait’s business environment by way of easing and streamlining processes for both local and foreign investors, progress has been made in recent years on several fronts and this will continue to be the case. Measures have been taken to ease the process of starting a business by reducing minimum capital requirements and to strengthen investor protection laws, especially for minority shareholders. These reforms have been recognised by major studies including the World Bank’s “Doing Business” reports over the past three years.
On the part of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, several initiatives have been enacted to further strengthen the business environment in Kuwait. To improve trade flows with the rest of the world, bilateral treaties are actively being sought to liberalise and open borders for several economic sectors including health, education and oil. One recent example of such treaties was the result of discussions between Kuwait and the Czech Republic’s respective Ministries of Commerce and Health to open up cross-border health care services, especially in the field of physiotherapy. Such bilateral trade and business ties are being strengthened both in Kuwait’s regional neighbourhood and further afield.
To encourage foreign direct investment, Law No. 116 of 2013 has codified and eased regulations for external investment, as well as the establishment of the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority, which have already yielded tangible results and have attracted several multinational investors to fields such as ICT. The planned establishment of free trade zones on five islands – Boubyan, Failaka, Warba, Miskan and Awha – is currently in the research stage, and plans are being based on successful international examples while also being tailored to local requirements to encourage greater foreign investment.
Which sectors stand to benefit most from Kuwait’s recent privatisation drive?
AL ALI: Kuwait’s drive to privatise several of its economic sectors is not something new, but efforts are being intensified as the need to diversify the nation’s income streams becomes more apparent. The banking system was among the first sectors in Kuwait to be transferred to the private sector, and local banks are now among the strongest in the GCC region.
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