Bipartisanship for mutual wrongsRuling and opposition parties vied to make ambitious promises about political reform during the last presidential election in December. Both vowed to relinquish various prerogatives our lawmakers enjoy, but it has been nearly a year so far and there has been no follow-up. Lawmakers set up committees that exist merely in name and hold book publishing ceremonies to raise funds once in a while.
So far, they have changed three things - prohibiting lawmakers from holding extra jobs while serving in public office, strengthening the punishments against violence in the National Assembly and revising the pension programs for retirees. But lawmakers have been mum on the centerpiece of the reform outline: the elimination of immunity against arrest and a restriction on various sources of income.
The main opposition Democratic Party members were absent from legislative sessions during the summer because of their street protests. But no one raised the issue of a no-work, no-pay principle. The DP had promised to cut lawmakers’ incomes by 30 percent. The ruling Saenuri Party also agreed to discuss scaling down salaries and apply a no-work, no-pay principle in a joint reform committee. But the parties didn’t cut one cent when setting this year’s spending budget for lawmakers.
The ad hoc committees the ruling and opposition parties receive a budget of 25 million won ($23,338) to 30 million won for six months of activities, with executive-level lawmakers receiving that money. Some special-purpose committees are under fire for merely serving as piggy banks for senior politicians. Some committees do not work or meet, while the extra money gets pocketed just the same. A handsome amount of allowances are handed out to lawmakers who go on trips abroad.
Lawmakers hold publishing ceremonies ahead of much-publicized events on the National Assembly calendar, such as the annual audit and the budgetary review. The funds and donations at these informal meetings don’t come under scrutiny for political fund-raising, which allows our lawmakers to easily make millions of won through these events.
The ruling and opposition parties also promised to scrap their authority for recommending candidates for mayoral, gubernatorial and local council offices. The DP approved it in a first-ever all-party member vote. But politicians are dragging their feet in making the bill into a law. Many cannot surrender the influential right to name candidates for public offices in their constituencies. Partisan bickering has put the National Assembly in a stalemate throughout the year. But somehow bipartisanship is at play when their mutual interests are at stake.