Year-round audit is needed

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Year-round audit is needed

The National Assembly’s regular government audit kicks off today. The first legislative inspection of the government under the Park Geun-hye administration carries great significance, considering the snowballing national debt and the unceasing corruption and lax management in the central government and public corporations.

But we are doubtful if our lawmakers can garner successful results from their audit, which covers as many as 630 government agencies in only 15 business days. The number of government organizations for the legislative audit has increased steadily over the years, up from less than 300 in 1997. We wonder if the Assembly can do the job properly when each standing committee has to deal with four to six agencies per day on average.

The audit schedule was hurriedly fixed due to the extreme political bickering between the ruling and opposition parties over the National Intelligence Service’s alleged meddling in last year’s presidential election and the revelation that former President Roh Moo-hyun hinted at possibly disavowing the Northern Limit Line, the de factor maritime border on the Yellow Sea, at a 2007 inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang. In this year’s legislative audit, less than 20 minutes on average are allotted to each lawmaker for their inquiries. They must use the time wisely rather than try to draw people’s attention through provocative remarks or whistle-blowing.

In this audit, almost 200 business leaders are also being summoned as witnesses. They were already investigated by either the National Tax Service, the Financial Supervisory Service or the prosecution for their misconduct. If the legislature wields its power indiscriminately, their business activities could be hurt. That would also undermine the legislative branch’s role of holding the administrative branch in check.

Our lawmakers cannot avoid the criticism that their audits of the government are superficial. That’s why political experts have suggested making government audits on a permanent basis, instead of confining it to a certain period of time. In fact, the National Assembly last year set the foundation for such a system by amending the National Assembly Law. The United States and the U.K. have de facto year-round government audits, in which a number of subcommittees under the standing committees summon, discuss or accuse government officials on a permanent basis. The ruling and opposition parties must introduce a year-round audit system beginning next year, before next year’s regular session starts in September.

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