Rival parties on Sunday failed to narrow their differences over next year’s budget, and proposed reforms of the state intelligence agency one day before the deadline they had set to pass related bills.
Senior members of the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic Party had agreed on Dec. 25 to pass key budget bills and amendments to the National Intelligence Service Act on the coming Monday.
But as Monday’s deadline neared, senior officials of the Saenuri Party and the DP expressed ongoing disagreements concerning NIS reforms and government spending bills for 2014 at a last-minute meeting that aimed to narrow party differences.
At the center of the wrangling were details of the proposed NIS reform bill. Although members of a special parliamentary committee charged with designing NIS reform plans had agreed to include strengthened penalties against NIS agents found to have interfered in public elections, for example, they failed to reach a final agreement.
Especially thorny was the issue of allowing NIS agents into government buildings.
DP chairman Rep. Kim Han-gil issued a statement earlier on the day that he would not endorse an NIS reform plan that did not explicitly ban NIS officers from entering the buildings of government agencies. DP officials have claimed that NIS officers visiting government agencies often overstepped their authority under the pretext of gathering information essential to national security.
The special committee on NIS reform previously agreed to not allow NIS officers into the buildings of political parties, media outlets or the National Assembly. The committee had not specified, however, whether to legislate similar laws concerning government agency buildings.
“I especially refuse to endorse documents that do not include a clear statement banning NIS agents from readily accessing government agency buildings,” Kim said, adding that even President Park Geun-hye had promised likewise in a September meeting.
The statement came as 16 DP lawmakers staged a 72-hour sit-in protesting the Saenuri Party’s reluctance to accept the DP’s terms on critical issues such as the ongoing railway workers’ strike and NIS reforms.
In response, the Saenuri Party’s vice floor leader Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun criticized Kim’s statement.
“The fact that a leader of the country’s main opposition party can come out and say at the last minute that he cannot come to terms with an agreement that floor leaders of the two main parties had already come to terms with is, well, very absurd indeed,” he said.
The Saenuri Party further accused the DP of attempting to “take in as hostage” key budget bills for next year.
Reports surfaced in recent weeks that the DP was looking for a “package deal” logrolling reforms to the NIS Act with various budget bills. Key budget bills awaiting final approval at parliament include government subsidies for school meals, the budget for the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, and real estate laws aimed at reinvigorating the country’s housing market.
By Jeong Hunny (email@example.com