NPAD should step up on pensions

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NPAD should step up on pensions

It is disappointing to hear Moon Hee-sang, the new chief of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, propose a mediating body to gauge opinions and outline reform for the government employees’ pension program. In his address to the National Assembly, Moon said reforming government employees’ pensions should not be railroaded under the president’s command. He said compromise and consensus must be built.

It is irresponsible and cowardly for the head of the main opposition party to sidestep on a controversial reform plan without putting any effort into finding a solution. His comment has already drawn criticism that the main opposition is trying to drag its feet on an issue that could jeopardize the votes of millions of government employees.

Moon knows how tough reforming the exclusive pension program for government employees will be. He saw how former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun vainly attempted - and failed - to overhaul the money-losing pension plan for government employees. The liberal administration tried to raise insurance premiums by shaving 9 percent off monthly payrolls for government employees, up from 7.5 percent in 2000.

Faced with strong protests from bureaucrats, it quickly wrapped up the revision after offering to cover the pension payout shortages with tax subsidies. As a result, the state fills trillions of won of pension losses with tax reserves each year. The Roh administration tried to push the pension payout age to 65 but could not do so because of opposition from bureaucrats.

Learning from these setbacks, the opposition must push ahead with reform. It must use its experiences to come up with an inventive reform plan instead of transferring the onus to a mediating committee. If the pension is not fixed now, it will cost the incumbent government 15 trillion won ($14 billion), the next 33 trillion won and the following 53 trillion won to cover up the losses. The opposition should work with the ruling party to draw up an outline.

A recent public hearing on pension reform was cancelled because a rowdy crowd of government employees rallied against changes to their pension benefits. It is naive to believe that those concerned can come to a consensus when they cannot even agree to hold a public hearing. There are many ways that the opinions of government employees could be heard and incorporated. Moon promised to reinvent his party into one that does not oppose for the opposition’s sake. He must keep to his word by addressing the pension program first.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 31, Page 34

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