[FORUM]Grandstanding legislatorsOne worries that if the National Assembly continues to be run the way it is being run now, our country will become even more worn out and the people will become isolated and impoverished. Legislators involved in corruption allegations are lined up to be detained and local assembly members are also piling up their own record of misdeeds. In dealing with the issues facing the agricultural sector, the National Assembly members are more interested in sugary policies with no substance than worrying in earnest about the future of farmers.
Consider the National Assembly members who forced another postponement last week of a final vote on the free trade agreement with Chile. Are these the same legislators who declared some time ago that the times demanded reform and opening doors, urging the transformation of the socio-economic system?
Moreover, some of the lawmakers were senior party officials who used to sway the National Assembly in scolding administration officials. Didn’t they say that we should discuss the national interest in the Assembly and work towards the future? These very legislators argued that ratifying the trade pact would impoverish the agricultural sector and led the way in physically taking over the speaker’s podium in the National Assembly to block a final vote. Their actions were no doubt prompted by the fear that unless they did so they would not win in the legislative elections in April.
Those were the actions of men who had abandoned principles, integrity and the honor and pride of men who were in important party posts in the past.
Several farmers’ groups outside the capital area have recently started to campaign for the provincial assemblies to use only locally-grown agricultural products in the school meal programs of those localities. This is a ridiculous idea for a policy to promote consumption and increase income. The North Jeolla provincial assembly, however, has recently become the first assembly to indeed pass such a law. Only agricultural products grown in the North Jeolla province are to be used in school meal programs.
The pressure to issue similar regulations is found in almost all assemblies around the country; the fear is that legislators who balk would be voted out of office. If this political style continues, there will be contention and strife among all the provinces over the distribution of agricultural products, and an economic war could likely break out among the provinces.
We need to pay attention to the fact that the attitude of the local assembly members in dealing with agricultural issues has become more and more competitive, like that of National Assembly members. This change in attitude comes from the realistic calculation that showing sympathy for the farmers’ movement would help them in their re-election bids and let them continue to sit in the legislative bodies.
Neither the National Assembly members nor the local assembly members have come up with plans to help our domestic agricultural sector cope with the opening of agricultural markets.
Shortsighted assemblies and assembly members are the biggest obstacles to progress in the agricultural sector today.
Only in Korea do legislators have the right to approve the purchase price of the autumn grain harvest by the government. It doesn’t stand to reason that the legislature of a country that advocates a market economy should control the prices of farm products. There is no evidence that this system has helped increase the income of farmers. It has even become ineffective because of the changes in market conditions.
Yet the Assembly insists on keeping the system because it is a way to boast to the voters about how they raised the purchase price and how they opposed free trade agreements. Some local assembly members fall into the temptation of promoting school lunch programs using local food. They avoid talking about the difficulties that would soon arrive in the daily lives of the farmers and their children. In this age of oversupply of agricultural products, the task is to enhance the competitiveness of the agricultural sector and those who work in it.
The time for debate is over. Our eyes are on the final vote on the ratification of the free trade agreement with Chile in February. Park Kwan-young, the speaker, will introduce the bill and retire soon thereafter. He has commented that all successful movies have a good final scene. By showing what our national interest is, the speaker will show the speakers of the local assemblies how to throw away bad ideas. A politician who truly cares for farmers would worry about the future that awaits them.
* The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Choi Chul-joo