A glimmer of hope for reform

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A glimmer of hope for reform

The Democratic United Party held a workshop earlier this month to examine why it lost the presidential election and came up with an outline for political reform. In the manifesto, the party proposed seven points for reform including a 30 percent cut in salaries and other expenses paid out to lawmakers, a scrapping of the exclusive lawmakers’ pension, and a ban on holding another job while serving as a representative. Whether there’s an ulterior political motive or not, the public, eager for signs of reform, will likely approve of this attempt.

But cutting salaries should not be the essence of political reform. Some actually believe such a move could undermine legislative politics. Some also scoff at the resolution as nothing but a political show. Even party members complain that the move is dishonest. The worries and skepticism are understandable considering politicians’ track record. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle promised to surrender their privileges during the April 11 legislative elections. But in the September National Assembly budget review they purposed a 20 percent hike in salaries and other expenditures.

Nevertheless, the DUP’s resolution does represent its desperate desire to ease public disgust and antipathy toward politicians. But few would buy the political rhetoric that they’re cutting back their pay in order to share the pain with the people during tough economic times. It would be more persuasive for them to argue for an increase in assistants like the U.S. Congress, and push for more activity expenses to help them do their work better.

But lawmakers would have had to demonstrate themselves as being worthy before making such proposals. Instead, they were audacious enough to seek a 20 percent hike in their tax-financed salaries while the people on the street were suffering from a sluggish economy. They were also deceptive in their attempts to escape criticism, complicating regulations on cap-free activity expenses.

This belated call for salary cuts is unlikely to strike a chord with the people, especially after lawmakers made such a mess out of the last budget bill, lobbying for pork-barrel projects for their constituencies at the expense of other necessary state spending.

Given the situation, the DUP’s proposal to cut legislators’ salaries and tax expenditures can be understood as a desperate attempt to save its own skin and reverse the extreme public apathy and skepticism toward the National Assembly in general.

For now, we should respect their decision and wait and see how they follow through. This is the second time the main opposition party voted in favor of the plan. Its party congress first voted on the outline before the December presidential election.

The people will be watching to see whether this is just another political show, with the ruling and opposition parties throwing the ball of political reform into one another’s court to buy time and save face.

If the DUP is that eager, its members could hand 30 percent of their salaries back to the state even if their proposal fails. That would help win consensus from the ruling party. But they’ll never win back public support if they keep making such heroic gestures only until public attention dies down. If the entire National Assembly is sincere about self-reform, it could seek outside experts to come up with a framework for a complete makeover. Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a professor of public administration at Hansung University.

by Lee Jong-soo
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