The insane Assembly

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The insane Assembly

Ahead of the Dec. 19 presidential election, the situation at the National Assembly is becoming nothing short of scandalous. Pushed by interest groups and their respective constituencies, lawmakers are pumping out pork-barrel projects and populist bills. Sensitive bills have been quickly and quietly rubber-stamped. The Land Transport and Maritime Affairs Committee of the National Assembly unanimously passed a bill last week to have taxis classified as public transportation, which would make them eligible for government subsidies. The slump in the taxi industry largely owes to politicians, who agree to license more cabs with every passing election. Politicians should try tackling the industry’s issues by raising cab fees and curbing supply.

The Defense Committee’s endorsement of the bill to relocate a military airport is also mind boggling, as the inconvenience to local residents will be so high. But if it goes ahead as planned, the government will have to find a huge plot of land and at least 3 trillion won ($2.77 billion). There has been a huge uproar recently over an attempt to build a new naval base on Jeju Island, and now we could be in store for a follow-up catastrophe. The airport bill could prove yet another example of how local authorities tend to abuse their power to favor certain lawmakers’ districts with no regard for national security.

Another revised bill concerning the opening hours of big retailers has also caused a huge controversy after it was passed recently by the Knowledge and Economy Committee. Overnight, it killed a compromise pact that the government, merchant groups and large retailers had worked hard to hammer out, and took sides with small stores.

Such bills are piling up at the Assembly, which is apparently never short on bizarre ideas, including one that aims to make taxpayers bear the cost of relocating local government offices and another that would make the central government responsible for managing local roads.

The legislature must be more prudent in exercising its enormous power, as it has never in the past been so reckless in trotting out populist bills. Strangely, ruling and opposition lawmakers demonstrate a rare bipartisanship in passing such bills. They approved the taxi bill as the industry pledged to vote for the presidential candidate who supports its interests. However, the government should challenge bills like this during its review process, and the leaders of the ruling and opposition camps should sit down to go over them in minute detail before they are voted on tomorrow.

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