[Editorial] No undue privileges

By Korea Herald

Opposition proposes cutting perks for lawmakers

  • Published : Feb 5, 2014 - 19:54
  • Updated : Feb 5, 2014 - 19:54
Political parties are among the least credible organizations. They make many promises ahead of key elections only to ignore most of them when the elections are over.

With the gubernatorial and local elections scheduled for June 4, the main parties have started to draw up election promises. But the electorate will have to take them with a grain of salt. If experience is any guide, many of them will be reheated pledges that parties failed to fulfill in the past.

A case in point is the opposition Democratic Party’s promise to remove many of the perks given to members of the National Assembly. But the opposition party, like the ruling Saenuri Party, has yet to make good on its earlier promises to discontinue undue perks.

Party leader Rep. Kim Han-gil set the agenda when he proposed at a news conference on Monday that a new law be written to deprive lawmakers of many of their privileges. The key points of his proposal include:

― the recall of lawmakers involved in corruption scandals,

― mandatory reports to the National Election Commission on the proceeds from book launches by lawmakers,

― a 50,000 won ceiling on the value of gifts or entertainment for a lawmaker.

The party leader also promised to push for the passage of a pending bill on lawmakers’ influence peddling and conflicts of interest during the current extraordinary session of the National Assembly. He also proposed creating an ethics watchdog in the National Assembly.

The Saenuri Party says it endorses the opposition’s proposals. But what else can it say before the local elections? Instead, it is certain to up the ante in the weeks ahead.

If their memory is short, however, they should be reminded they still have many promises they still have to fulfill before making new ones. Among them are a 30 percent cut in lawmakers’ pay and new regulations on their constitutional privileges. Specifically these privileges are immunity during a parliamentary session from arrest without the consent of the National Assembly and from legal responsibility for remarks they make. The two parties promised to address this ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012. But they have not honored those promises yet.

Failure to make good on their promises has turned the National Assembly into one of the least trustworthy public institutions in the nation. According to a 2012 survey commissioned by the now-defunct presidential commission on social cohesion, only 5.6 percent of the respondents said they had confidence in the National Assembly.

Of course, this is not to say that the opposition party’s new proposals are worthless. Instead, each of them, if written into law, will undoubtedly make Korean politics cleaner.

Book launches, for instance, show why. Lawmakers publish books of doubtful value and take envelopes of cash for the books from people who attend the launch. In the absence of regulations, few others than the lawmakers and the book purchasers are aware how much money is in the envelopes.

The least that is needed for book launches, which are suspected of being conduits for unlimited contributions, is a statutory obligation to report the proceeds from them to the National Election Commission. A better solution would be to prohibit lawmakers from holding such events.