For improved political reform
Of course, we have reasons for the current state of affairs. Politicians have been so widely censured that citizens are only satisfied when politicians are punished. Moreover, citizens, political parties and the media are fundamentally responsible for today’s political crisis.
We have seen many successful figures from different backgrounds move into politics and fail. Therefore, Korean society needs to seriously consider whether changing the general incentive system offered to politicians will allow them to abuse their positions and how to change the existing incentive system to attract more noble and honest people to politics.
If politicians get little attention from the media and citizens by listening to the voters and proposing good policies, but gain respect by getting involved in tough struggles in and out of the National Assembly, making groundless disclosures and criticizing civic workers, who wouldn’t choose the latter?
During its economic development, Korea accomplished industrialization and became a major exporter by providing enormous financial and economic incentives.
Moreover, Olympic athletes were consistently offered attractive incentives, which encouraged them to accomplish athletic triumphs exceeding Korea’s national strength. If we want political advancement, don’t we need to offer incentives? Of course, I am not just talking about material compensation. It should be a more broader incentive system that includes honor and punishment.
However, the reforms discussed by the ruling and opposition parties focus on cutting back on lawmakers’ incentives. If their annual allowance is cut by 30 percent and privileges are reduced, will more good people aspire to pursue a political career? How much state budget can we save by cutting back on incentives? It is not even one-tenth of what’s required to rescue a savings bank. Good politics should be a top priority of the nation, ahead of any other tasks.
It is not a good reform plan to satisfy citizens temporarily. We need to encourage competent people to pursue lives as politicians and make a career in politics. Instead of cutting down on privileges, we need to make efforts to revise the current unrealistic - and overly restrictive - political funds act to reflect reality better and support them to get properly involved in legislative activities.
We don’t want a society where only rich people can get into politics. We also need punishment for bad political practices. Citizens and political parties must serve their roles. As long as a candidate with a nomination from a certain party is guaranteed to get elected in a certain region, we cannot expect much progress in politics. Reforms in political parties - including the nomination process, competition for party leadership and party operation methods - are the most important.
In the past, Korean society was not so transparent. The actual compensation and incentives were not transparent. The wages for civil servants and National Assembly members were more than their salaries. The gift money from the president, party leaders, factional bosses, relatives and corporate sponsors comprised of the compensation and incentive system in the Korean society. This is how they lured talented people and influenced society.
However, these actions are essentially inspired by corruption and collusion. These actions must be eradicated for the advancement and transparency of society. Thankfully, Korean society is moving in a desirable direction. However, there is something that the society has missed. A transparent compensation system should be established so that society can function transparently, efficiently and dynamically.
Just as the confirmation hearing for Constitutional Court chief justice candidate Lee Dong-heub has shown, the compensation system for civil servants needs to be reorganized. If they need extra income, their salary should be increased. There is no need to offer them the ambiguously defined “special purpose expenditure” and make the civil servants feel ashamed to use the money for private purposes.
Restrictions and punishments for bad political practices and politicians also need to be tightened. But we should not stop there. Enhanced incentives to encourage good politics is necessary. It is not just about politics. We need new ways to compensate and reward according to merit and performance in the new era. Therein lies the reform and innovation.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor of economics at Sogang University.
by Cho Yoon-jae