Get down to businessChuseok is the Korean national holiday when people comfort each other and share the happiness of a harvest. With the festive season around the corner, however, our National Assembly is in a state of near paralysis due to opposition lawmakers’ dereliction of duty in the aftermath of the Sewol disaster. Thanks to their abandoning of their duties, the legislature has passed no bills whatsoever over the last four months.
Despite more than 90 urgently needed bills awaiting lawmakers’ votes - some directly related to people’s livelihoods - they are sitting on their hands due to the opposition’s outmoded strategy of linking the passage of those bills to the enactment of a special law aimed at getting to the bottom of the worst maritime tragedy off the nation’s southwest coast. The opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy is not willing to budge an inch unless the special Sewol law fully reflects the demands of relatives of the victims, especially the families of the high school students who died.
Lawmakers have not even fixed the schedule for the regular audit of the government, a pivotal function of the legislative body. The audit of the executive branch is the lawmakers’ privilege, their duty, possibly their raison d’etre. If they abandon that duty, it will surely cause a critical setback in urgent deliberations of next year’s budget of 375 trillion won ($368.2 billion).
Civic groups have filed suits against the lawmakers, accusing them of dereliction of duty. Conservative advocacy groups, including the Young’s Liberty Union, criticized the Assembly for “not passing a single bill from May to August and yet receiving a hefty 11 billion won in allowances for doing nothing.” Conservative groups point out that the most important duty of lawmakers is to deliberate on bills and keep a close watch on government spending.
Though voters are outraged, there is not even a faint sign of business restarting in the legislature. Despite a growing number of opposition lawmakers calling for a separation of the Sewol law from other bills, the hawkish atmosphere in the NPAD remains.
The special Sewol law agreed to by the floor leaders of the ruling and opposition parties can effectively figure out why the disaster occurred and how to compensate for the loss of more than 300 lives. The victims’ families are, of course, partly responsible for the mess, but the opposition must take greater responsibility. The opposition must realize why its approval rating has plummeted recently.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 3, Page 34