|The National Assembly passes a bill to reform the prosecution during a plenary session on Friday.|
The National Assembly passed the much-contended prosecution reform bills on Friday, under pressure to avoid ending the February session without significant results.
The bills will allow the introduction of a special investigator, who will monitor activities of high-level officials and members of the president’s family, and ease the requirements for launching an independent probe.
The measures, however, came under fire even before their approval in the plenary session, with critics saying that they miss the core of President Park Geun-hye’s prosecution reform pledges.
While the special investigator system was designed to keep high-level officials in check, the approved bill excludes members of the National Assembly, ministers and vice ministers from the scope of the special investigator’s activities.
As for the special counsel bill, critics say that the clause regarding the number of legislators whose support is required to launch such a probe effectively nullifies its initial intent.
According to the new regulation, an independent probe can be launched when it is approved by more than half of the lawmakers attending a plenary session. However, as the law also requires more than half of all the incumbent legislators to attend the voting session, the ruling party can effectively block any special probe it does not support.
The Saenuri Party currently holds 156 of the 300 parliamentary seats.
Along with these, the parties passed several major bills such as the revised Personal Information Protection Act.
The revision, introduced in response to the recent massive data leak at local credit card companies, makes it mandatory for financial firms and other organizations handling resident registration numbers to encrypt the information.
Although the parties did not end the session empty-handed, an array of bills has been left unresolved including that concerning the basic pension plan.
A key part of the president’s welfare pledge, the initial plan was to provide 200,000 won ($190) monthly pension to all senior citizens.
Citing budget issues, the ruling Saenuri Party and the government have pushed to alter the plan to cover seniors over age 65 who fall in the bottom 70 percent income bracket. The government’s plans would also vary the monthly pension between 100,000 won and 200,000 won.
The main opposition Democratic Party’s plans would provide 200,000 won per month to seniors in the bottom 80 percent income group.
“The basic pension and the special counsel investigation move (unapproved) on from the February session due to the Saenuri Party and President Park Geun-hye’s promise breaking, but the DP will not give up,” DP floor leader Rep. Jun Byung-hun said.
The special counsel investigation refers to an independent probe sought by the DP into the alleged election interference by state organizations including the National Intelligence Service.
Along with the basic pension bill, the parties failed to process a string of motions including cutting weekly working hours and bolstering the protection of credit card information.
By Choi He-suk (email@example.com