|Lawmakers attend the National Assembly plenary session to pass this year's budget bill on Wednesday. Yonhap News|
The National Assembly on Wednesday approved the government budget and a host of tightly contested bills including the revised Foreign Investment Promotion Act and the National Intelligence Service Act.
The revised Foreign Investment Promotion Act was fiercely resisted to the last minute by the main opposition Democratic Party, which claims it was designed to benefit chaebol, or family-owned conglomerates. The revised act will allow subsidiaries of Korean holding companies to own a smaller stake in new subsidiaries they found in collaboration with foreign companies.
The DP, however, conceded to the ruling Saenuri Party in return for the promise to process bills regarding the reform of the public prosecutors’ office during the National Assembly session in February.
The process was not without the acrimony between the two main parties that characterized much of 2013.
Just before the foreign investment act was to be put to the vote, the DP raised allegations that Saenuri Party floor leader Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan had used his influence to secure additional budget funds to benefit his constituency.
According to DP lawmakers, the project to extend Daegu’s subway system was allotted 5 billion won ($4.7 million) in extra funding as the extension would connect with a station in Choi’s constituency of Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang Province.
The developments caused the plenary session to be halted, with the DP holding an emergency general meeting in which it accused concerned lawmakers of violating the National Assembly Act and fraud.
The confrontation, which threatened to bring the parliament to yet another standstill, was resolved following Finance Minister Hyun Oh-seok’s apology.
“As the minister responsible for overseeing the budget, I am sorry,” Hyun said at the National Assembly. He added that there were no irregularities with regards to the budget, and that the concerned project was abandoned after being rejected by the parliamentary Land, Infrastructure and Transport Committee.
Although the issue was resolved without further disruptions, the allegations raised by DP lawmakers appear to have inflamed the already volatile interparty relations.
“As the DP’s chronic illness has flared up from the first day of 2014, there must be political and legal reckoning for defaming fellow legislators by spreading false information,” Saenuri Party floor spokesman Rep. Kim Tae-heum said.
As for the budget, the government has been allowed to spend about 355.8 trillion won in 2014. The approved amount is 1.9 trillion won lower than the plans submitted by the government.
Spending was cut on President Park Geun-hye’s pet project, the Saemaul Movement; the NIS and the military’s Cyber Warfare Command; and the Four Rivers Project.
The “Park Geun-hye brand” budgets ― spending allocated to projects rolled out by the president ― passed intact for the most part despite the DP’s declaration that it would push for a cut.
The projects include those designed to promote a creative economy and stem the “four major evils.” The four crimes are those involving foodstuffs, domestic and school violence, and sex crimes.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org