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Civil service pension reforms pass

May 30,2015
The National Assembly approved an overhaul of the civil servants’ pension system early Friday morning, but the ruling party made deep concessions to the opposition for its support on issues that are guaranteed to haunt it and the government.

The revision to the Public Officials Pension Act, a main ambition of President Park Geun-hye announced in February 2014, was approved around 4 a.m. Friday. The passage came 457 days after Park introduced the project to shape up the debt-ridden program, 213 days after Chairman Kim Moo-sung of the ruling Saenuri Party introduced the bill and 151 days after a panel involving the government, civil servants and the ruling and opposition parties started their discussions.

Of the 298 lawmakers of the National Assembly, 246 attended the voting and 233 supported it, while 13 abstained. Among those abstaining were Rep. Lee Jong-kul, floor leader of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), who negotiated the pension reform with the ruling Saenuri Party. Moon Jae-in, NPAD chairman, voted for it.

“Taking into account the party’s situation, the public servant’s pension reform was necessary, but personally I do not believe in it,” Lee said. “The timing and the scope of the changes were inappropriate.”

According to the reform plan, government employees will pay more in contributions while receiving smaller payouts after retirement. The government estimated that the changes will save 333 trillion won ($300.6 billion) of tax money over the next 70 years.

The two main parties had agreed to pass the pension reform bill on Thursday, but they faced a surprise obstacle at the last minute. The NPAD insisted on a compromise on an issue completely unrelated to pensions: a planned investigation into the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster.

An enforcement decree for the special law governing the investigation of the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April 2014 was approved by the cabinet on May 6. The NPAD demanded a change to the decree. Opposition lawmakers wanted a civilian expert - not a government official - to manage a special committee investigating the ferry’s sinking. As of now, an official from the prosecution will oversee the probe.

Negotiators of the ruling and opposition parties struggled to find a compromise on the issue through Thursday night, and they came up with a plan to revise the law governing the National Assembly.

The revision will allow the legislature to request the government to amend certain kinds of administrative legislation such as presidential decrees and the prime minister’s ordinances. After the National Assembly makes such a request, the government will have to make the change and report back to the legislature, according to the revision.

The enforcement decree governing the special Sewol law is such an administrative legislation.

While some lawmakers of the Saenuri Party protested the change, calling it an infringement on the separation of powers, the National Assembly passed it early Friday morning along with the pension reform. Of the 244 lawmakers who participated in the vote, 211 voted for it, 11 voted against it and 22 abstained.

Hours after the vote, the Blue House condemned the legislature for abusing its power by linking the civil service pension reform with unrelated political issues.

Kim Sung-woo, presidential senior secretary for political affairs, said the ruling and opposition parties had gone off the rails. They eventually approved a revision to the National Assembly Act, which can be deemed unconstitutional, Kim said.

“I must ask the lawmakers how revising the National Assembly Act is relevant to the public servants’ pensions,” Kim said. He asked the legislature to reconsider the passage before sending it to the president for her signature.

“No justification can convince the people of this practice,” he said. “Calculating political gains at this difficult time for the public and the government is unacceptable and it only disappoints and wounds the people.”

Kim also said the revised National Assembly Act is an infringement on the constitutional principle of separation of powers. “The government’s administrative lawmaking is to enforce laws, but the revision will allow the National Assembly to influence that process. It will restrict the executive branch’s exclusive right and there is a serious concern that the government’s functions can be paralyzed.”

It remains to be seen if Park will veto the change in the National Assembly Act.

According to the Constitution, Park has 15 days to veto legislation approved by the legislature. The National Assembly also has the power to override the veto by holding another vote. To override a presidential veto, more than half of the sitting lawmakers need to participate in the voting and more than two thirds of the lawmakers need to support it.

The revision to the National Assembly Act was already approved by 211 lawmakers - more than two thirds of the 298 incumbent members of the legislature.

After the Blue House condemned the legislature, the opposition NPAD and also the ruling Saenuri Party criticized the president’s complaint.

“It has nothing to do with the separation of powers,” said Rep. Yoo Seong-min, floor leader of the Saenuri Party.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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