Civil Servant

Chapter Five: Civil Servant/Reformer

While always interested in Kuwait’s governance and the role of the government in improving the quality of life for all those living in Kuwait, Sheikh Nasser’s involvement came later in his professional life.  In the late 1980s Kuwait’s political landscape was rocky.

Alienation and monopolisation of key state decisions negatively affected the entire country. And as the Iraqi invasion took place on 2 August 1990, Kuwait was on the precipice – the country’s constitutionalism and parliamentary democracy was tottering on the edge.

After the liberation on 26 February 1991, Nasser and other young members of the ruling family drafted a petition advocating broad reform in an attempt to maintain the country’s growth and prosperity. The petition called for reviewing and, possibly restructuring, the operations of all government institutions, including the judicial and executive functions and the role of the National Assembly.

This interest was not new, politics and foreign affairs were factors in which Nasser took particular interest, especially when making major decisions. He was a man of vision who wove a tapestry of potential futures for his beloved country, but understood that government needed to play a key role. He was an outspoken critic of things he thought should change, with the specific objective of eliminating the political stagnation that seemed to have set in.

With his father on the day he became Minister of the Amiri Diwan
With his father on the day he became Minister of the Amiri Diwan

This forward thinking caught the attention of H.H. Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah (Amir from 1978 to 2006) who issued a decree appointing Nasser to his first state position in 7 December 1999.

He was named a special advisor to H.H. the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Sheikh Sa’ad al-Abdullah al-Salem al-Sabah (who ultimately served as Amir for a short time in 2006). Many other government appointments followed, including Minister of the Amiri Diwan (11 February 2006 – 10 December 2017), First Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Defence (11 December 2017 – 18 November 2019). In all his roles, Nasser tackled the challenges and issues from a strategic state-view perspective, linking solutions with different executive and legislative entities within Kuwait to form a recipe that would ensure Kuwait’s position as one the world’s leading nations.

The 2019 Ministerial Cabinet with Minister of Defence, Sheikh Nasser
The 2019 Ministerial Cabinet with Minister of Defence, Sheikh Nasser

Thinking strategically and motivating others to implement sound plans had proved successful in business and so he carried the practice over to his government positions. This also served him well in dealing with regional heads of state and world leaders, be it identifying opportunities for extended cooperation on subjects of bilateral interest or partnering to address global concerns. 

With a strong sense of ‘service’, Nasser looked beyond the immediate tasks at hand, trusting that with some direction and guidance the work would be done and done well. Instead, he concentrated on what he defined as a greater challenge: reform.

Taking his place in an established, yet flawed, system didn’t appeal to him. Rather he embraced the greater goal of ensuring that the country, under the 15th Amir, HH Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah (ruled 2006 – 2020) operated with efficiency, compassion, and, most important, integrity.

Minister and Amir; son and father
Minister and Amir; son and father

In naming names, highlighting problematic programmes, reviewing contracts, and investigating formal and informal agreements, Nasser acted outside the norm. This, of course, drew scorn from many government insiders but was widely popular with others – inside and outside the administration.

The overarching theme of Nasser’s service was his palpable disdain for corruption; he was a man who could not accept a status quo that allowed unethical and illegal actions to fester. He believed that corrupt behaviour and nepotism were key factors in limiting the progress and growth of education, business, commerce, government. In short, it restricted the growth of Kuwait as a major force in world affairs.

He also recognised that social attitudes towards corruption within his home country would need to change for Kuwait to regain its prosperity and take its rightful place in the world. Through his investigations, he was able to identify corrupt activities and, just as important, factually support his accusations. Bravely, he began exposing those who abused their positions.

Yousef Allbraheem – Reform

Yousef Allbraheem – Corruption

Kuwait Vision 2035

Sheikh Nasser, General Secretariat of the Supreme Council for Planning and Development Vice Chairman, was widely recognised as the mastermind of Kuwait Vision 2035, also known as New Kuwait. The group proposed a strategy for moving the country forward, offering a comprehensive programme that includes seven key pillars: Effective Public Administration, Creative Human Capital, Sustainable Diversified Economy, Strong Progressive Infrastructure, High Quality Healthcare, Sustainable Living Environment, and Exceptional International Positioning. 

Nasser recognised the importance of reducing the country’s heavy dependency on oil and moving towards alternative sources of revenue. The defined subsections of each pillar provide the necessary outline and objectives to do so. It included the development of new business and economic ventures and the re-focusing of education endeavours to ensure the population is prepared to work successfully in the new industries.

He advocated taking full advantage of Kuwait’s geographical location and direct links with the regional main markets to transform an oil-based economy to a more sustainable and dynamic one.  Nasser could see Kuwait among the region’s most productive countries and, with Vision 2035 sought to create a viable path to positioning Kuwait accordingly.

Meeting with a senior Chinese official in 2018

The implementation of the Northern Region Economic Project
(also known as al-Hareer and Silk Road/Silk City Project), was central to Nasser’s concept for transforming Kuwait “into an international trade and financial hub,” by economic diversitification, the attraction of foreign investments, the expansion of employment opportunities and promoting growth in the tourism sector.

Sheikh Nasser Addressing the National Assembly on Vision 2035 (Video)

Sheikh Nasser Addressing the National Assembly on Housing Issues (Video)

Report on Sheikh Nasser’s Meeting with Tony Blair (Video)

Sheikh Nasser Commends the National Assembly on Cohesion (Video)

Yousef Allbraheem (Video)

Yousef Allbraheem (Video)


As the honorary president of KAPPF, Nasser identified and deployed another tool in the fight against corruption. The association has strong connections with other associations related to monitoring government performance and spending in a manner that affect citizens and people within Kuwait.

The humanitarian instincts held by Nasser advocated for programmes that provide direct benefit to citizens.  The political realist recognised that these entities could be subject to large-scale exploitation. With the establishment of KAPPF as an active “watch dog” of Kuwait’s public benefits, funds, welfare and services, a systematic civic structure to combat corruption was institutionalised.

When Sheikh Nasser took the reins of the Ministy of Defence, Kuwait’s Bidoons   (individuals without without official documents) were not allowed to volunteer for the military.  After serving admirably for decades, a law change in 1991/1992 precluded their service.  In 2018, Nasser led the drive to change the law and welcome Bidoon volunteers to join the military. 

In speaking on behalf of the proposal, he noted that the inclusion would contribute “to building a good national bond that gathers and does not separate, and that it came in honor of the children and relatives of the martyrs who died for Kuwait in previous wars,” referring to the Bidoon fighters who served in the Kuwaiti army during the Arab wars in 1967 and 1973, and in the war of liberation of Kuwait in 1991. The new law passed with overwhelming support from all branches of the government.

With representatives of the military during his tenure as Minister of Defense

With representatives of the military during his tenure as Minister of Defense

Approximately one year later, Sheikh Nasser petitioned the Central Bank to continue the transfer of salaries to bidoons in the employ of the Ministry of Defence.

The practice had been stopped at the request of the Commission for Bidoon Affairs, who advocated for the change pending the presentation of original documents by the impacted individuals. Nasser emphasised the value of the work being done by staff in questions, noting that the salaries were earned not gifted and therefore there should be no delay in salary payments.

He was successful in this and the Central Bank continued transferring salaries to all employees of the Ministry.

Subject: Banking transactions for Bidoons working in the Ministry of Defense.

Sent in response to a letter from Central Bank stating that financial transactions for Bidoon will no longer be processed by the Central Bank, Sheikh Nasser immediately requested an exception for Bidoons working in the Ministry of Defense. The document below formally requests that salary payments and other banking services for Ministry employees be allowed to continue. 

In August 2018, two students died and three others were injured in what was considered a negligent manslaughter event at the Ali Al-Sabah Military College. The deaths occurred as a result of two consecutive days of lengthy and strenuous training sessions outside in temperatures in excess of 45 degrees Celsius.

The preliminary report released by the General Staff Investigation Committee indicated that exhaustion and fatigue were the cause of the deaths. However, a surviving student revealed that the officers were severely beating the students and deliberately deprived them of food and first aid after hours of standing in the sun.

Paying his respect to the families of those who died in an Army camp exercise

Paying his respect to the families of those who died in an Army camp exercise

As Minister of Defence, Nasser returned from a medical trip abroad, where he’d just had a major lobectomy, to ensure a proper investigation was executed and to assure the families of the deceased students that appropriate action would be taken.

To that end, he listened to the testimony of injured students and ultimately assigned the investigation to two independent committees (one from the Ministry of Defence and another Human Rights committee) to work together as a Joint Investigations Committee. To ensure full transparency, he ordered the suspension of the in-house Staff Investigation Committee. 

Nasser suspended all those involved in directing and/or leading the activities in question, including leaders of the Military College, until the investigation process was completed. After the Committee issued its report confirming that negligence and a failure to preserve the students’ lives were the causes of deaths, he ordered that those involved be referred to the Public Prosecution Office.

Visiting a soldier wounded in Kuwait Army camp exercises

Visiting a soldier wounded in Kuwait Army camp exercises

Checking on an injured soldier in the hospital after an incident at a Kuwait Army camp.

Checking on an injured soldier in the hospital after an incident at a Kuwait Army camp.

In November 2019, Sheikh Nasser, who was then First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, filed a report describing rampant corruption related to one of the funds earmarked for social support for civilian and military personnel of the Ministry of Defence. Modelled after similar funds in other countries, including Great Britain, approximately KD 5 million was allocated annually to provide loans to members of the military establishment and for expenditures to honouring the families of martyrs.  As such, it was regulated by mechanisms for authorisation and disbursement, preparation of expenditure accounts, and the submission of required reports to the designated authorities.

A preliminary investigation of the fund revealed embezzlement, gross malfeasance and misappropriation.  Facts related to this were compiled in the report submitted by Sheikh Nasser to the Parliament.  In his communication, Nasser identified violations involving the Army Fund and the related accounts, included the suspicion of misuse of public funds exceeding KD 240 million. He made it clear that he had taken a decision to refer these violations to the Public Prosecution after reviewing the multiple letters the Audit Bureau sent to the Ministry and an initial evaluation of the records.

Nasser’s report was met with great support in Parliament, which transferred it to the supervisory authorities for investigation.  As prominent figures in the Ministries of Defence and Interior were implicated, the matter was referred to the Ministers’ Court.

The allegations reached a global audience, as Bloomberg reported on the actions, publicising the accusations of corruption against influential figures and the resulting political repercussions. This prompted the late Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad to address the people and to reassure that the matter would be investigated and those responsible for wasting public money, whatever their positions, would be held accountable. An investigation committee was formed by HH the Amir for this purpose.

With HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Sabah at work

With HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Sabah at work

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said that the action of the Minister of Defence reinforced the principle of transparency and established rules of equal justice. The statement was issued to reassure the population of the Ministry’s commitment to preserve public funds and protect them from misuse.

In August 2017, a civilian aircraft returning from Riyadh to Kuwait struck an unmanned tethered military Air Defence balloon in the Sabiya area (Al-Hareer City), interrupting the collection and flow of information related to Kuwait airspace and the security of the peninsula. It also caused more than $300 million of damage to the balloon and the radar equipment it held.

Investigation committees were formed by the General Administration of Civil Aviation, the Ministry of Defence and the airline.  There was little disagreement related to the cost of the incident, both in terms of intelligence gathering and actual fiscal impact. The disputed finding was the assignment of responsibility: to the airways or the government.

As it was a private, commercial entity that caused the damage, the Ministry of Defence moved to hold them accountable.  To Nasser, this was a simple matter of guarding public resources, specifically the cost that should not be borne by the State.

On 29 October 2019, the two of the airline’s pilots were convicted of a misdemeanour, jailed and required to pay a fine of KD20,000. At this time, the lawsuit against the airline continues.

To view the The Airways Case, please click here