Bill would curb lawmaker benefits

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Bill would curb lawmaker benefits

Cornered by President Park Geun-hye’s high approval rating for her first year in office and an impending rivalry with Representative Ahn Cheol-soo’s new political party, the main opposition Democrats are seeking to push forth a package of restrictions that would rein in vested privileges among lawmakers.

The bill, tentatively called the Special Ethics Act for Lawmakers, includes a clause that states that a vote of no-confidence can be taken on an incumbent lawmaker if15 percent of constituents in his or her district consent to such a motion.

The bill also calls for stripping various rights long enjoyed by lawmakers, such as access to VIP airport lounges.

With the June local elections just months away, the bill is thought to be a way of appealing to voters while giving the impression that the DP is determined to follow through with “new politics,” an ideology Ahn’s political camp has been fervently touting since its inception.

In its proposal, the Democratic Party said it felt compelled to rein in indulgences by lawmakers, as “public criticism has risen” against them, particularly because many of those privileges are unrelated to legislative responsibilities, thereby “damaging the credibility” of the legislative body and its members.

The DP maintained a firm stance on passing the bill, submitting it to the National Assembly on behalf of all 127 of its members.

If implemented, the bill would prohibit lawmakers from receiving favors or benefits - such as free admission to golf courses, or free flight or train tickets from those looking to wield their influence. In addition, at book publishing ceremonies, a lawmaker would also be banned from selling his or her book above market value and be required to submit to the election authority the details regarding event costs and income.

If the proposal is passed through bipartisan efforts, it would effectively put an end to years of indulgent practices by lawmakers looking to use such events to raise political funds and exert influence.

Because book publishing ceremonies are currently considered private events, there is no ceiling for how much money officials can accept, and hosts are legally entitled to the money from book sales. They are also not legally required to report the details to the authorities. There is also generally no fixed price for the books.

The bill would also require lawmakers to present receipts and submit an expense report to the National Assembly’s ethics office from overseas business trips, a move that will place lawmakers under strict monitoring on trips considered to be leisurely affairs.

With the DP pushing to put the bill up for consideration at the plenary session in April, it is expected that the ruling Saenuri Party will have no choice but to consent with the local elections so close.

Public opinion on lawmakers’ privileges has traditionally been negative, and many consider politicians’ privileges to be too indulgent and largely irrelevant to their legislative duties.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]


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