[Outlook]The spirit of inspections past

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[Outlook]The spirit of inspections past

The National Assembly’s inspection of the administration resumed in 1988 in the wake of democratization, after it had been abolished under the authoritarian Constitution drawn up by Park Chung Hee.

The opposition party, who held a majority in the parliament, displayed its power during the inspection. Ugly aspects of the authoritarian administration were revealed. The people were enraged to see what was uncovered, and applauded the lawmakers’ efforts.

The labor committee was created for the first time that year. It wasn’t very popular among lawmakers, however, because its members were unlikely to have much influence, and at the same time would probably have to handle all types of complaints.

But Roh Moo-hyun, Lee Hae-chan and Lee Sang-soo, three first-time lawmakers who belonged to this committee, became star politicians. One of them even went on to become the president.

Because of the vivid memories from this intense time, the current National Assembly inspection just doesn’t feel like it is good enough.

Back then, every corner of society was corrupt. The people had an extreme interest in the inner circle of power, which had been regarded as a hidden sanctuary. The inspection made headlines day in and day out. Politicians made their careers. Lawmakers of today probably wish they could be as popular as their predecessors.

But the lawmakers of today didn’t prepare for the inspection properly. Politicians from that bygone era were well prepared and hardworking. When questioning Chun Doo Hwan, Roh did more than just throw a name tablet and yell at him. The labor committee’s three musketeers had their aides work around the clock. Among these men were Rhyu Si-min, who later became a minister, and others served as presidential aides in the former administration.

If an inspection was to be held, they would even go down to the little labor office of a small city and run checks days in advance. They ate and slept with laborers there. They searched through documents. They discovered things that even civil servants who had been working there for years didn’t know about, asked questions about them, and received apologies and promises to improve. If the lawmakers of today had the same passion, dozens of political scandals, such as the current rice subsidy debacle, would have been divulged long ago.

Two veteran politicians, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, fiercely competed during the inspection. They called a meeting every day and pushed lawmakers to perform. They made it clear that their actions during the inspection would be reflected in the party nomination process during the next elections. The brand of politics conducted by the three Kims has been criticized, but this style of hard work can’t be found among the leaders of political parties today.

Of course, there were negative side effects. Some politicians just wanted to become famous. One lawmaker raised a fuss in the media as if there was an enormous corruption sandal. He didn’t listen to the answers to his accusations, knowing the issue he was raising was not a big deal.

Some were busy resolving small complaints. Some followed TV cameras. Lawmakers divided the time when TV cameras were rolling, each posing their questions. When the cameras were off them, they fell silent again.

However, such people were soon forgotten. Those who had the passion to make society better have survived and were able to achieve much bigger things. That was a vital step in the growth of our nation, in which the shell was peeled from the authoritarian era.

The inspections did produce good results in the past. However, we should think about whether they should go on like this. Lawmakers didn’t prepare enough and they insist on their arguments, whether they are logical or not. They try to demonstrate their status by insulting government officials. When a scandal erupts, they pour out all the problems at once, instead of focusing on each one individually.

In August, the ruling and opposition parties agreed to establish standing subcommittees. If operated properly, they can ask for materials and investigate when problems arise. In the past, civil servants didn’t present the proper materials, except during the parliamentary inspection. It isn’t easy to call witnesses. However, things have changed thanks to transfers of power.

If our current institutions are insufficient, complementary measures can be created. The National Assembly should be able to call witnesses at any time and perjury must be severely punished. If the Constitution is to be revised, it would be a good idea to move the Board of Audit and Inspection into the National Assembly.


*The writer is a deputy chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin-kook
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