No work, no payLawmakers have again proposed reducing their salaries and tax expenditures by 30 percent. It is an idea first floated by main opposition Democratic United Party presidential candidate Moon Jae-in during his campaign. Now, the DUP has repackaged it as part of a new manifesto on self-reform and proposed discussions on such legislation with the ruling Saenuri Party during an ad hoc National Assembly session later this month.
Is the scale-down necessary and possible? Does the idea come from the bottom of lawmakers’ hearts, from a desire to reform by giving up privileges and perks? The answer is no.
The cuts are just ammunition fired by both the ruling and opposition parties to win public support during the legislative and presidential elections last year. Both parties pledged a new type of politics, both promised they would demonstrate their will to change. Both offered to surrender some benefits. Fat monthly paychecks were not the only thing they talked out giving up. They also proposed scrapping their pensions and reducing the number of legislative seats, as well as banning lawmakers from having other paid jobs.
Some of the pledges are plausible and necessary, such as prohibiting lawmakers from having more than one job and rationalizing their pension system. But the proposal to cut salaries and expenditures is nothing but a bluff.
Lawmakers should make their work worthy of taxpayer money in the first place before trying to cut their pay. Any surrender of benefits should lead lawmakers to concentrate on their work effectively and productively. If they were actually doing their jobs properly they may be complaining that their current salary isn’t enough.
But what the legislators have shown taxpayers so far is that they don’t deserve the money they get. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle appear to agree on the cuts, as they all promised to do the same thing. But the promise was squeezed out of them rather than being genuine. If they were sincere in the first place, they wouldn’t have dragged their feet and had to make the same promise again.
The initial bad move was committed by the members of the last National Assembly, who displayed rare bipartisanship in passing a bill that boosted their salaries and expenditures. That stunt contrasted with peers from other countries who voluntarily agreed on freezes or cuts to their salaries amid the global economic slowdown.
Before seriously reviewing cuts, we should contemplate whether the current salary system is structured appropriately. Korean legislators are paid less than their counterparts in Japan and the United States in terms of the relative economic size of the countries, but slightly more than those in Germany, France, and Britain.
The National Assembly should calculate the amount paid out to each member and review their spending to decide on a suitable pay scale. If they want to present themselves as genuinely having the desire to share the pain and push for reform, they should apply the no-work, no-pay principle instead of lowering salaries. They must agree on what “no-work” actually means. Guidelines set on productivity should be reflected in paycheck size.
The scope of a legislator’s job is extensive and diverse. Meeting all different people from their constituencies is also part of their job because those are the people they represent. Most legislators are affiliated with parties. Their activities within the party are also important. Strict application of pay according to productivity could be tricky. It would be necessary to specify what constitutes a lack of work, such being idle during regular National Assembly sessions. The worst thing to see is lawmakers fighting instead of working. If they diligently work for the rights of the people, the people will wholeheartedly want to reward them for their efforts.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a political science professor of Dongguk University.
by Park Myung-ho