[OUTLOOK]Who’s minding the store?The people have been losing money on their business again this year, although by now they have become accustomed to it. But still, they get furious when thinking about their shop in Yeouido. (Don’t even start to talk about another shop in central Seoul whose name has recently been changed to Lame Duck.) The people hired staff for their business in Yeouido at an annual salary of more than 100 million won, or $108,000. But the staff members never try to work for the owner. Although the pay may not be very high, they forgot their promises to the owner as soon as they were hired. Instead, they act as if they were the owners and pursue their own interests. That’s why the people are sad thinking about how much money they have put into the business and the staff members. The business is, by the way, also known as the National Assembly, and the staff members are called lawmakers.
Some call it the “National Assembly with empty hands;” others call it a “vegetable parliament.” The budget bill for next year has been put on hold amid political strife between the governing and opposition parties. The bill is highly likely to be passed illegally at the last minute, as has been the case almost every year. The Constitution stipulates that a budget bill should be approved 30 days before the new fiscal year begins. But the National Assembly has abided by that provision only twice during the last decade. Many bills concerning the people’s livelihood have never been taken out onto the table. Almost 3,000 bills are said to be pending at the National Assembly.
Some may say that the sheer number of bills that have been proposed prove that lawmakers have worked quite hard. Of course, the number of bills proposed at the 17th National Assembly is much more than that during the 16th National Assembly. At the current pace, the number of bills would have been three times more. But the question is how many of those bills have been talked about and approved or disapproved; currently slightly more than 40 percent come up for handling. Only 30 percent of bills have been decided for approval or disapproval. These figures are much lower than at the 16th National Assembly, when 74 percent of bills were discussed and 47 percent overall were brought to final decision. That means the current National Assembly is far from productive. According to statistics, the total cost for handling one bill is 46 million won, while 180 million won is spent on the process of deciding whether a bill is approved or disapproved. That is unarguably a high-cost structure.
That was in part because of the chaos surrounding the private schools act, over which the National Assembly has kept stumbling.
But there is another reason: the emphasis on the number of bills rather than the quality of those bills. Since civic groups and the media evaluate a lawmaker by the number of bills he or she had proposed, members of the National Assembly tend to propose as many bills as possible.
The owner loses sleep if he or she can’t stop the staff from playing tricks. However, there is an idea. We can name each bill after the lawmaker who leads in proposing it. Lawmakers will try to propose more important bills and change and polish them carefully if they know the bills named after them might last forever. If a bill is well prepared, nobody will blame a lawmaker for producing only one bill in one year.
The late U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, did this. When he was a senator, he vigorously supported union workers. But later, together with Irving Ives, a Republican senator, Mr. Kennedy proposed a bill that forced labor unions to receive financial audits on a regular basis, because he felt it was necessary to stop union workers’ reckless strikes. The bill was named the Kennedy-Ives Bill. Despite two attempts, the bill was defeated. But his efforts to pass a bill bearing his name ushered him into the White House.
In Korea, there are also a couple of acts named after the lawmakers who introduced them. The revised act on nationalities and Korean expatriates that requires Koreans with dual nationalities to render mandatory military service is called the Hong Joon-pyo Act. The current political funds act that strictly regulates politicians’ fundraising goes by the name Oh Se-hoon Act.
Let’s also name bills that have less influence on society or earn less recognition from the public. Let’s honor those who design great bills and ask those who come up with bad ones to take responsibility. In fact, a bill to do so by revising the National Assembly law has already been proposed ― but that also is pending, probably because some lawmakers are afraid to be defamed by their own bills.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom