Political parties and the government failed to reach an agreement on a contentious basic pension bill on Monday, the first day of a three-way consultation session at the National Assembly.
The ruling and the main opposition parties, and the Ministry of Health and Welfare reopened negotiations on the bill to lay the groundwork for passing a welfare program drawn up by President Park Geun-hye to strengthen state support for senior citizens.
Despite the resumption of talks, the three sides remained at loggerheads, reiterating their previous positions.
Although they failed to narrow their differences over the bill, the three have decided to continue negotiations on Tuesday.
“I think the original plan is the most rational one from the viewpoint of the ruling party, which cares about seniors and the burden of the future generation,” said Saenuri Rep. Yoo Il-ho at the trilateral meeting held at the National Assembly.
Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo also urged the opposition party to pass the bill in order to start providing senior citizens with benefits starting in July as the government has promised.
The opposition party, however, lashed out at the Saenuri Party and the government for digging their heels in and refusing to accept its repeated demands for a revision.
“Minister Moon had promised to consider the opposition party’s demands and we expected to see some changes this time. We cannot suggest anything as the minister came in with empty hands,” said New Politics Alliance for Democracy Rep. Rhee Mok-hee, who chairs the Health Welfare Committee.
The ruling Saenuri Party and the Ministry of Health and Welfare have been locked in a battle with the main opposition since February, differing over the scale of the benefits. The government, in its final plan proposed late last year, said it would dole out a monthly pension from 100,000 won to 200,000 won ($94 to $188) to the bottom 70 percent of senior citizens according to how long and how much money they have contributed to the existing national pension fund. The opposition party has been attacking the government, saying it “deceived the public,” stressing that Park had vowed to offer 200,000 won to every senior citizen regardless of their income level.
The NPAD called on the government to scrap its plan to link the basic pension scheme with the national pension and expand the scope of recipients.
NPAD is a new opposition party launched by the Democratic Party and the independent lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo last week.
The negotiations are not likely to go smoothly. But the possibility is high for the two rival parties to reach an agreement to pass the bill closely related to people’s livelihoods as they are concerned about securing votes ahead of the June 4 local election.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org)