ABU DHABI ø Bahrain's parliament has demanded the dismissal of
several ministers in what has been regarded as a major test of the kingdom's
commitment to democracy.
Members of the Islamic-dominated parliament have called for the
resignation of at least three ministers for their role in the collapse of
two pension funds in the kingdom. The ministers were accused of graft and
mismanagement in an unprecedented five-hour televised parliamentary session
on Saturday in which the government was openly attacked.
"This is an issue that affects our next generations," parliamentarian
Ali Ahmed said. "We shall not compromise."
Twenty members, or half the parliament, spoke at the first of two
special sessions to discuss the collapse of the two state-sponsored pension
funds. A 1,200-page report released by a parliamentary committee asserted
that three ministers used tens of millions of dollars from the pension funds
for failed investments driven by political interests.
The report said the government drew money from the General Organization
for Social Insurance, responsible for 62,000 private sector employees, for
donations to charities. The charities were not cited.
"We demand that those responsible step down," parliamentarian Isa Al
Mutawa said. "We ask the government to punish whoever is proven guilty of
misusing the public trust."
The report said Finance Minister Abdullah Seif, who chaired one of the
pension funds, and former Labor Minister Nabil Al Shoula "bear the full
responsibility for the financial and administrative transgressions, the
spread of bureaucracy, the lack of a special investment placement body
within both funds and the lack of a monitoring body." The current labor
minister, Majid Al Alawi, has also been accused of wrong-doing.
The parliamentary committee recommended raising the retirement age from
50 to 55 for men and from 45 to 50 for women to save the fund. Another
recommendation was for pension contributions to be increased from the
current 15 percent to eventually 25 percent of salaries.
On Wednesday, parliament will hold the second session on the failed
pension funds. Parliamentarians have called on the government to return the
money taken from the pension funds and impose administrative reforms.
The government has denied improprieties in the administration of the
pension funds. Cabinet Affairs Minister Mohammed Al Mutawa, who appealed for
cooperation from parliament, said the funds have reserves of 800 million
dinars, or more than $2 billion, and remain sound.
"I hope they realize this fact and extend their hands to us," Al Mutawa
said. "They need us as much as we need them."