Published : 2013-10-13 19:11
Updated : 2013-10-13 19:11
On Monday, the National Assembly is starting an inspection of government agencies ― one of the two most important tasks it conducts during its 100-day regular session each year, together with the deliberations on the administration’s budget request.
The annual 20-day inspection should serve as an occasion on which the legislature checks the administration. But in reality, all it does is to provide a battleground on which the opposition takes the offensive and the administration and its party defend their turf.
At the venues of inspection, the opposition tries to dredge up the administration’s policy failures for public view. For this purpose, it brings ministers and other officials to the witness stand for testimony. When the administration is cornered, the ruling party comes to its rescue.
This does not mean that the ruling party is always on the defensive, though. Instead, it goes on the offensive against the opposition when any of the key policies it shares with the administration is at stake. It is not unusual for the ruling party to attack the opposition over political, economic, social and other issues of great concern to the electorate.
Potential issues of conflict between the rival parties on the areas of inspection are plentiful. Actually, it is most likely that almost all issues over which they have been fiercely fighting each other will continue to be contested at the inspection sites.
Among them are a proposal to make the National Intelligence Service politically neutral through reform, the mishandling of the 2007 inter-Korean summit minutes, the reduced pension benefits for the aged and Chae Dong-wook’s controversial resigning as prosecutor general.
But the two adversaries will have to keep their bickering from getting out of control. Otherwise, many will undoubtedly wonder if the parliamentary inspection is serving its statutory purpose of checking the administration under the principle of separation of powers.
Pitting the opposition against the administration and its party is not the only drawback of the parliamentary inspection. Another serious problem is that as many as 639 government agencies, government-invested corporations and government-funded organizations are subject to inspection by the National Assembly. It is virtually impossible to dig deeply into all issues of concern involving those agencies and organizations during the 20-day inspection period. What the legislature needs is a “select and focus” strategy.
No less problematic is the selection of so many businessmen as witnesses. Chief executive officers of Samsung, Hyundai, SK, LG and other chaebol companies are among the 200 businesspeople selected as witnesses. An extreme case involves the National Policy Committee. Of the 63 civilians summoned to testify before the committee were 59 businessmen. It is not difficult to understand why the Korea Employers Federation has recently appealed to the National Assembly to exercise restraint in summoning businesspeople as witnesses.
If past experience is any guide, it cannot be ruled out that many of the businessmen will be not asked a single question. Instead of demanding answers to their questions, committee members merely taunted, scolded or shouted at quite a few of them. No wonder, businessmen reportedly lobby lawmakers against being selected as witnesses.
Twenty-five years have passed since the parliamentary inspection resumed after an eight-year hiatus. It is past time to remedy its wrongdoings. Critics are already calling for an “inspection” of the inspection.