The parliamentary inspection of the administration due to start Thursday is likely to degenerate into a familiar scene of rival parties exchanging harsh words and lawmakers scolding businesspeople.
The ruling and opposition parties are determined to use the audit to ramp up their political offensives against each other. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea plans to highlight “evils” of past conservative governments, while the largest opposition Liberty Korea Party has condemned its “political retaliation.”
The Democratic Party is ready to dig up dirt on the previous two administrations of conservative Presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak. The Liberty Korea Party has criticized the current administration for being incompetent regarding security matters, calling its incompetence “new evils.” It is also keen to get to the bottom of controversial issues related to two former liberal Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.
A no-holds-barred fight is expected, with neither party giving an inch. Every issue they are expected to deal with is so politically sensitive that it may strike a fatal blow to the morality of the losing side.
Without a doubt, if there are hidden wrongs of the past governments, they should be brought to light and rectified. However, the parliamentary inspection of government agencies must not be trapped in fights over the past.
Present problems including youth unemployment, slow growth, the low birthrate and rapid aging are too pressing. Youth joblessness cannot be solved by a stopgap measure such as increasing public-sector employment. Rather, it will snowball fiscal burden eventually. Despite sluggish economic growth, the government has not found new growth engines yet. These matters are not easy to solve even if rival parties are united in bipartisanship. A fundamental change in their attitudes toward the inspection of the administration is required.
No matter how fiercely they argue, they should trade shots over present and future issues, not play a blame game over past events. The present situation is not optimistic enough to spend time and energy picking at the past.
A large number of businesspeople, including chairmen, founders and chief executives, are expected to be chosen as witnesses as usual.
When inspecting the administration, lawmakers should try to tell right from wrong over its operation and performance. It should be more focused on the administration than on businesses. Nevertheless, too many businessmen are selected as witnesses year after year.
The National Assembly can summon anyone as a witness if needed. Businesspeople have no excuse to be an exception. The problem is selecting a large number of them as witnesses.
The 17th National Assembly, which was created after the 2004 election, summoned an average of 52 businesspeople a year as witnesses for its inspection of the administration. The number rose to 77 in the 18th Assembly and 124 in the 19th. The 20th Assembly, which was formed after the 2016 election, called 150 businesspeople to the witness stand for its first audit of state agencies last year.
Though the legislative branch is supposed to audit the executive branch to keep it in check, the inspection turned sour at some point, becoming something like a disciplinary hearing for businesspeople.
Most of the time, lawmakers fail to ask witnesses proper questions and are not attentive to their answers. In one case, a witness spent just 30 seconds answering after waiting for more than 12 hours. Some witnesses were not asked any questions, as lawmakers focused on certain businesspeople. Many lawmakers tend to assert their views and tell witnesses off, rather than asking questions.
Legislators regard scolding witnesses as an exercise of their power. Speaker Chung Sye-kyun asked lawmakers not to choose too many witnesses nor to be bossy in asking questions. But lawmakers are not likely to change their behavior easily.
Once businesspeople are brought in the parliament as witnesses, lawmakers must not only assert their opinions but try to listen attentively to testimonies. This is a way for the parliament to conduct a productive inspection and for businesspeople to avoid wasting time. Otherwise, the parliamentary audit of state agencies will be stigmatized as another evil to eliminate.