Parliamentary committees enter political minefield

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jun 29, 2014 - 21:22
  • Updated : Jun 29, 2014 - 21:22
The parliamentary committees have been normalized after weeks of political wrangling, but sensitive issues they have to deal with in the coming weeks could delay meaningful progress in their work.

The House Steering Committee, headed by Saenuri Party floor leader Rep. Lee Wan-koo, is facing the particularly sensitive issue of discussing the so-called “National Assembly Advancement Act,” in the coming months.

The term refers to a series of revisions made to the National Assembly Act to prevent physical clashes between parties and to prevent the majority party railroading bills.

Although the revisions were made under the initiative of the conservatives in 2012, the Saenuri Party has since termed the act “National Assembly Paralyzing Act” and called for additional changes.

The ruling party’s claims have not been received well by the main opposition.

“(The Saenuri Party) is calling for changes (to the act) now that they have become the majority party. I think (any changes) should be made after at least one (parliamentary) term,” lawmaker of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy said.

In addition, lawmakers of the ruling party and the main opposition on the committee have a number of other touchy subjects to deal with including those surrounding parliamentary audits, which the two sides agreed to hold in two separate sessions.

The sensitive nature of the items on the steering committee’s agenda is not all that casts a shadow on its proceedings.

The committee chairman Lee Wan-koo is known for being a perfectionist, casting doubt on his ability to negotiate an exit when faced with a deadlock with the NPAD. In addition, the presence of NPAD floor leader Rep. Park Young-sun on the committee is considered likely to amplify trouble the two parties face in the committee.

Park, a three-term lawmaker, is a hardliner who made her mark while serving as the chief of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee during the first half of the 19th National Assembly.

Other standing committees are faced with equally difficult tasks.

Among them, the Security and Public Administration Committee is likely to experience one of the more severe standoffs.

The committee, headed by Rep. Chin Young of the ruling party, will see Saenuri Party and NPAD lawmakers debate the Park Geun-hye administration’s plans to reorganize government organizations and safety issues related to the ferry Sewol, whose sinking left more than 300 dead or missing.

The plans include drastically modifying the functions of the Ministry of Security and Public Administration, Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and establishing a new ministry-level body for overseeing security issues. The plans will also see the disbandment of the National Emergency Management Agency.

In addition, the Prime Minister’s Office will be given the function of a control tower in times of national crisis.

While the plans were welcomed by the ruling party, the NPAD made its opposition clear from the outset referring to the plans as “haphazard.”

“(The Prime Minister’s Office) is unable to have power. Cheong Wa Dae holds the power to combine (resources of different government bodies),” NPAD spokesman Rep. Yoo Ki-hong said.

“And, I think the concept of security goes beyond anti-North Korea security. As the boundaries between threats are disappearing, there should not be divisions (in the related functions of the government).”

He added that the NPAD disagreed with abolishing the Coast Guard, saying that while its intelligence and investigative powers should be dispersed, it should be made stronger to be able to serve a role similar to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The ruling party, however, is urging the main opposition’s cooperation emphasizing the need for “national reform.”

Meanwhile the Legislation and Judiciary Committee faces the task of taking the reins on its own operations. Although the committee’s role is reviewing bills approved by other committees, it has been criticized for overstepping its authority when its members held back such bills.

The Education, Culture, Sports, and Tourism Committee is to be mired in issues surrounding the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union, which has been declared illegal, while the issue of North Korean human rights is to fuel the inter-party skirmishes in the foreign affairs committee.

As for the National Policy Committee, one of the most hotly dealt with issue is to be the Kim Young-ran act.

The proposed act, named after former chief of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, would subject civil servants and their relatives to criminal penalties if they receive more than 1 million won ($990) regardless of whether the money was given as a bribe.

While the Kim Young-ran act has been welcomed by both sides, with their leaders calling for a swift legislation of the bill, the Saenuri Party and NPAD have clashed over the scope of its application.

“The biggest issue is the scope, whether to include siblings or cousins of the spouse (of the civil servant). If we include the spouse’s siblings, 5 million people will be affected, if we include cousins then more than 20 million people will be,” the NPAD’s Rep. Min Byung-doo said.

The ruling party has been pushing to reduce the scope of the act, while the NPAD has been calling for it to be expanded.

Min, however, said that he would limit the act to civil servants, which would bring about 1.8 million people under its influence.

By Choi He-suk and Jeong Hunny