[Outlook]Audits doomed to fail

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[Outlook]Audits doomed to fail

The 18th National Assembly’s inspections of government offices began on Oct. 6. However, there was nothing new. The small hall was bursting with journalists, photographers and video production crews from the nation’s broadcast giants. And there were vast bundles of documents related to legislative audits - still unpacked - sitting on lawmakers’ chairs, waiting for them. Things had seemingly come to a pretty pass.

The inspection is being conducted by 298 lawmakers and lasts for 20 days.

All but the National Assembly speaker will be looking into nearly 500 government ministries and affiliated organizations.

Each assemblyman on a standing committee is supposed to inspect about 15 to 16 organizations, which means that each person must go over and analyze 15 to 16 bundles of documents submitted by the government.

A civic group insists that as much as 4.2 billion won($3.2 million) is spent every year copying and binding the documents needed for the legislative audit.

The 298 lawmakers are not a group of superhumans.

The most they can hope to achieve is to take a skin-deep look at the organizations they are supposed to audit.

As if that wasn’t enough, inspections are also hampered by meaningless and repeated questions due a lack of preparation on the part of lawmakers.

Each lawmaker is allowed seven minutes for oral argument, which makes it necessary to fire questions faster than any witness can answer them.

Sometimes, when a witness is not given enough time to answer a question, he becomes the target of strong warnings and lawmakers’ wrath.

In addition, fierce political wrangling and comments motivated by waiting cameras supersede the administrative task.

It is urgent to introduce the institution of year-round permanent legislative inspection to resolve the difficulties and inefficiencies riddling the current practice.

Another problem with the current inspection is a repeated and indiscriminate demand for excessive and unnecessary data. A year-round inspection system would ease the National Assembly’s 20-day paralysis and lessen the public’s inconvenience.

The intense 20-day National Assembly audit also allows major issues to slide under the radar because so much is crammed into the inspections.

A permanent legislative audit would alleviate this problem, too.

The current system is a relic of the past, when the National Assembly had no regular session.

Because that has changed, there is no reason to insist on conducting legislative inspections within a certain period of time.

Rather, if legislative audits are conducted separately depending on the standing committees, lawmakers would be able to concentrate all their energies on enacting laws and deliberating proposals during the Assembly’s regular session.

In addition, the current National Assembly audit should be departmentalized similar to American subcommittees.

If these subcommittees operate year round, the time for questions and answers can be lengthened.

Likewise, the modus operandi adopted during the current legislative audit could be changed from questions and answers in bulk to a series of questions and answers, which would enable audits to go deeper.

If directors or director generals, in addition to the relevant state ministers or organization heads, are allowed to have the opportunity to provide direct answers, it will make it easier for the inspections to yield tangible results.

Lastly, there are not a few cases in which the legislative audit seems superficial due to lawmakers’ lack of expertise.

One viable solution is to set up a system in which the National Assembly audit is done in close collaboration with the Board of Audit and Inspection, which has more experience.

There also needs to be provisions for summoning outside experts when they are needed.

It is my sincere hope that we will no longer see vast bundles of documents when we turn on TV coverage of the National Assembly audit next October.

Rather, I hope that lawmakers will be able to investigate a government agency in a serious and persistent manner based on a reasonable amount of data.

When bundles of documents disappear, the National Assembly will come back to life.

*The writer is a professor of the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy in Kookmin University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Sang-hoi
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