The perks of being in the Assembly
“Do you get free money or food when someone from your hometown becomes president? Sure, but you don’t know how good it is to be a minister.” Former Justice Minister Kim Gi-chun said these words at a meeting at the Chowon restaurant on Dec. 11, 1992. The conversation stirred the presidential campaign 21 years ago. The heads of government agencies in the Busan area got together to discuss ways to support Kim Young-sam, the presidential candidate for the Democratic Liberal Party. Kim had resigned from the ministerial post two months before. He hadn’t served as a member of the National Assembly at the time, but he became a lawmaker in the 15th General Election in 1996. If he had served as a member of the Assembly first, his comment on the ministerial position would have been different.
Which post is better, a National Assembly representative or a minister? For the average citizen, either post is just as hard to attain. But those who were lucky enough to experience both tend to say being a lawmaker is better.
First of all, a member of the National Assembly has more freedom. He or she can go to places at will, and there is no legal accountability for what he or she says in parliament. During the Assembly session, a lawmaker has the privilege of immunity from arrest and detention without the consent of the National Assembly. During the four-year term, he or she enjoys special treatment. In the past, the exclusive factional politics had a strict hierarchy, but the seniority is no longer so important. The only challenge is re-election. Japanese politician Banboku Ono once said, “A monkey that falls from a tree is still a monkey, but a legislator who falls in an election is merely human.” But after the election, all is clear again.
A minister is just as honorable as an assemblyman. You get to lead as many as thousands of elite government officials and put your ideals and convictions of national administration into practice. However, your schedule is very tight, and so many eyes are on you. So you have to be careful about your doings and sayings. You never know when the Blue House will call you. And the average service is only about 14 months.
Maybe that’s why a seat in the National Assembly is so coveted. Even if you serve a single day, you get to receive 1.2 million won ($1,128) in monthly pension payments from age 64. Being a member of the Assembly in Korea is quite a deal.
It comes with lunch money, vacation expenses, family allowances, tuition subsidies for children and car maintenance costs. Nine National Assembly members who had been meddling with the budget in a hotel room shamelessly went on a tour of Latin America and Africa. Do they seem to deserve these perks? Maybe we shouldn’t let them back in, after all.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun