[FOUNTAIN]Improving legislative hearings

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[FOUNTAIN]Improving legislative hearings

The United States seems to be continually holding congressional hearings. Whenever a scandal breaks out, a congressional hearing opens. There are several flavors: legislative hearings, investigative hearings, oversight hearings and appointment confirmation hearings are only a few examples. About 600 nominees for judicial and administrative posts are examined in nomination hearings every year; that is the bulk of the U.S. government's senior leadership.

The history of congressional hearings in the United States goes back almost to the nation's founding. The first Senate hearing was held on Aug. 22, 1789, just 13 years after the United States declared its independence. The hearing was to consider bilateral treaties between the United States and Indian tribes in the country's south. After that first hearing, Americans built up a tradition that all issues are publicly examined through hearings.

Today, congressional hearings have become a pillar that supports the congressional democracy in the United States; such hearings have also become a part of the everyday lives of U.S. citizens. The events occur almost daily; 11 Senate hearings were scheduled for Thursday, according to the Internet site capitolhearings.org. It is no exaggeration to say that the sun rises and sets on such events each day.

Koreans had a similar system of public hearing, called gukcheong, during the Joseon Dynasty. At such hearings, some suspects charged with grave crimes, including lese-majesty, were questioned directly by the king.

In modern Korea, U.S.-style hearings were first introduced during the 13th National Assembly in 1988. The hearings were aired live on national television and produced star politicians like Roh Moo-hyun during the investigation of alleged misdeeds by the Chun Doo Hwan administration, and were almost universally considered to have been a productive and well-conducted first attempt.

Since then, Assembly hearings have turned into low comedy. A good example was hearings on the defunct Hanbo Group. The firm's chairman, Jeong Tae-su, had a sudden and nearly complete memory loss. "How can a servant know anything?" was one line that became a widely repeated joke.

At the recent National Assembly hearings that rejected the prime-minister nominee, Chang Sang, the questions and her replies were politically immature; we need to put our heads together to establish a systematic and objective hearing system like that in the United States.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo correspondent in Berlin.

by Yoo Jae-sik

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