Beyond the paleWe are dumbfounded by our lawmakers’ unconscionable behavior defying citizens’ growing expectations for a new type of politics. A group partly responsible for delaying the 2013 budget bill past the Dec. 31 deadline for the first time in the history of the National Assembly hopped on planes for foreign junkets just hours after the session was over. A team led by the ruling Saenuri Party’s Chang Yoon-seok, chairman of the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts, left for Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama, and another led by Choi Jae-sung, a leading member of the committee and an opposition Democratic United Party legislator, embarked on a leisurely trip to Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa - all to allegedly study those countries’ “advanced” budget review systems.
We are wondering what they can possibly learn from those countries. Can they research advanced appropriation techniques only on the Serengeti prairie and in despotic states? We’d be happier if they said they went on overseas tours to take a rest.
They could also have pretended that the trips were part of the diplomatic role they play as lawmakers. But they went too far this time, given how they dealt with the critical budget bills.
First of all, they put the final stamp on the 2013 budget in hotel rooms in a clandestine manner to be able to approve innumerable requests for pork barrel funds from their constituencies and other interest groups. They passed a 12.8 billion won ($12 million) budget item to support their post-retirement lives, while slashing 490 billion won from the original defense budget proposal and 282.4 billion won from the budget for the lowest income bracket. Despite their pledges to expand the budget for welfare for the impoverished, they were busy currying favor with their constituents without paying any attention to how to wisely spend taxpayers’ money. One committee member even admitted that he is very ashamed of what he did.
Citizens’ discontent has reached its peak. Some demand the lawmakers return the 150 million won of National Assembly money for their overseas trip to the government or announce the results of their studies on “advanced” budget systems in Costa Rica and Zimbabwe. Others are vowing not to vote for those legislators in the next election. Some went so far as to propose blocking their re-entry into the country. One thing is certain: All of them will not be able to come back with heads held high.
Just 10 days ago, our politicians gave repeated promises to mend their ways. But then the election ended. They must not try citizens’ patience again.