Time to ban reps’ moonlightingThe ruling Saenuri Party and opposition Democratic United Party have begun negotiations to organize the new 19th National Assembly, which will convene on June 5. With both parties facing a myriad of political, economic and social issues to be addressed over the next four years, a crucial question still remains: whether representatives should be able to retain side jobs.
Lee Hahn-koo, the new floor leader of the Saenuri Party, said the issue will be addressed together with other issues involving Assembly reform. But the employment question should be given top priority. In the 18th National Assembly, 127 lawmakers - a whopping 42.8 percent - held other jobs as lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, patent agents and CEOs of private and public companies.
The most problematic of those who hold onto their jobs are lawyers because they are prone to corruption, especially receiving political contributions from clients as legal fees. When former Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae allegedly received 200 million won ($171,200) from a company amid a prosecutorial investigation, there was disagreement over whether the money could be classified as a lawyer’s fee.
Representatives with side jobs can also be tempted to legislate in favor of their businesses rather than in the interest of the general public. Therefore, the National Assembly must deal with this issue quickly. Our current laws prohibit lawmakers from taking advantage of their posts in standing committees for personal gain, but the effect of the regulations is very limited.
In an age when legislators’ professionalism is required more than ever before, it may not be acceptable for our lawmakers to enjoy salaries from their side jobs. The 21st century calls for an assembly which can represent the growing demands of voters 365 days a year.
There are also growing calls for more regular and persistent audits of government activities by the legislature. The U.S. Senate and House budget committees and Japan’s lower house remain open all year.
Our lawmakers’ salaries are not small, as they receive as much as 600 million won per year, including allowances to pay the salaries of their staff members and other benefits.
We hope our legislators will discuss this issue in a sincere manner and follow the example of the U.S. Congress, which strictly bans its members from earning more than 15 percent of their salaries in extra income.