|Persian Gulf States Table of Contents
Kuwait's large state bureaucracy emerged in the post-World War II period as a result of the vast government revenues generated by oil. Under the first oil concession, oil payments went directly from the oil companies to the amir, who, along with his advisers, decided--initially, rather informally--how much of the oil revenues would be spent and in what ways. The historical elite, notably the merchants, objected to this arrangement, most notably in the Majlis Movement of 1938. In time the government instituted ministries, budgets, financial controls, and other aspects of modern public administration, partly in response to such public protests and partly from the practical necessities of carrying out a variety of new state functions related to oil and to popular distribution of revenues through state services.
At the top of this bureaucracy is the cabinet, under the prime minister, a post that historically has been held by the crown prince. The cabinet is appointed by the amir, who has the power to dismiss it along with almost every senior executive official, including the crown prince, local governors, and officers in the armed forces. Members of the Al Sabah play an important role in the cabinet. Twelve of the fifteen members in the original postindependence cabinet appointed in January 1962 were from the ruling family. Although public criticism led to a reduction in their numbers, in the 1970s and 1980s a large number of ministers, including those in the most important posts, came from the ruling family. The remaining cabinet ministers often came from prominent families and from members of the National Assembly. These ministers were generally young (in their thirties and forties), highly educated (nearly half with college degrees, some with advanced degrees, especially in economics and business, often from United States universities), and mostly Sunni.
In addition to the cabinet, Kuwait has several autonomous agencies and public corporations. Their employees and those of the various ministries comprise the bulk of the nation's civil servants. The civil service grew tremendously in the years after independence as the state developed a large bureaucracy devoted to spending oil revenues. The largest state institutions are those providing social services, notably education. Historically, this bureaucracy has been staffed largely by foreigners. Although the government's policy has been to staff the civil service with Kuwaitis to the extent possible, and although most employed Kuwaitis work for the state, the government nonetheless relied heavily on foreigners to fill positions at all levels before the Iraqi invasion.
A second factor contributing to the growth of the bureaucracy is the government's guarantee of jobs to all citizens. Not only does the state guarantee jobs, but it also offers Kuwaitis preferential treatment in employment, including higher salaries and preference in advancement over non-Kuwaitis. The government is the largest employer in the country. Many Kuwaitis prefer government employment to other positions even when it means undertaking routine tasks that underuse their skills and time. Others hold jobs in both the public and the private sectors, working in a government office in the morning and working privately in the afternoon. Observers frequently have commented on the country's excessive bureaucracy and overstaffing, to the extent that several people are often assigned to what could be one job. Several efforts to reform the civil service have not reduced the inefficiency and underuse of available labor.
More about the Government and Politics of Kuwait.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress