No government shutdown, please

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No government shutdown, please

The year-end is around the corner and lawmakers have yet to begin reviewing the government’s 2014 budget proposal. They have not even completed settling last year’s accounts of the previous administration under President Lee Myung-bak. The National Assembly has been stuck in a deadlock for months, bickering over past issues. Ruling and opposition parties claim they work for the people and yet they neglect to do their primary jobs.

According to the National Assembly Law, the review and approval of settlements of the previous account must be finished by the end of August, before the regular session opens. But lawmakers habitually disregard the law they made. The Constitution also stipulates that the legislature must approve the budget 30 days before the fiscal year begins. The deadline is set for Dec. 2, just a few weeks away.

Lawmakers cannot just rush their review of the budget bill to meet the Constitution-mandated deadline. The damage from a hasty review and reckless favoritism ahead of next year’s local elections would affect the people. But we cannot sit around for legislators to take all the time they’d like.

The budget review will be held hostage as long as political wrangling and conflicts continue. The 2013 budget bill was passed at dawn on New Year’s Day. Next year’s budget may not even be that lucky. The main opposition Democratic Party is poised to use the budget bill for its political war. DP Chairman Kim Han-gill gave Prime Minister Chung Hong-won a cold look when Chung pleaded for bipartisan support on economic and budget bills. Kim told the prime minister that past issues must be settled to help public lives and the economy. He is unqualified to lead a main opposition party if he links two such totally different issues.

The opposition is not the only one at fault. The ruling party has also failed to break the stalemate. Under the circumstances, there is no knowing when the budget can be approved. The government may have to draw up a provisional budget on a monthly basis to run the government. It could even suffer a temporary shutdown.

Yet there is no sense of urgency. Politicians are too busy fighting with one another. If they cannot reach a compromise, lawmakers at least should agree on a truce to approve last year’s account settlement and next year’s budget. Fighting could go on after the work is done. If the government has to appropriate a provisional budget, there must be a punitive mechanism, such a cut in subsidies for political parties for neglecting their duties and damaging national governance. Otherwise, politicians’ bad habits will never be fixed.

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