[EDITORIALS]Highly paid volunteersSome 170 legislators from the ruling and opposition parties have submitted a bill revising the Local Autonomy Act, which provides local government council members with stipends. The bill is expected to pass without much difficulty. While part of the stated reasons for paying local council members makes sense, it seems appropriate that a thorough examination of the overall progress of the local government system since it was instituted 12 years ago.
The government and legislators should ponder how to readjust the distribution of duties between the central and local governments, whether the present two-tiered system of local governments should be maintained and whether the current number of council members in each government is appropriate. Talks about salaries could come later.
Advocating salaries for local council members contradicts the original idea of local council volunteers serving their communities. At present, members of the bigger umbrella councils receive about 1.7 million won ($1,400) per month for expenses, council activity fees, allowances and supplementary fees. Members of the smaller elementary government councils receive 1.1 million won. In reality, the local council members are paid. The new bill asks for an annual salary of 50 million won, roughly the wage of fairly high ranking public officials, for the umbrella council members and 38 million won for the lower council members, almost the equivalent of mid-level public officials. The legislators claim that salaries could attract younger and more efficient workers to the local councils and this in turn could upgrade the expertise of local government and eliminate corruption. But from a practical point of view, this drastic increase is hard to accept.
This bill is asking the people to pay for an additional 4,180 high-ranking public officials on unverified assumptions. The fact that legislators have put forth this issue as a priority raises suspicions that their real motive is to feed and train the local council members as their troops for the general elections next year. The National Assembly should take a stern look at its priorities and set them right.