Parties skirt around pension reform conditions

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Parties skirt around pension reform conditions


With the ruling party determined to pass a reform bill to overhaul the deficit-stricken pension system for government workers by the end of this year, some observers have speculated that the Saenuri and the main opposition could reach a closed-door agreement that may be beneficial for both sides.

At the center of the theory is that the governing party would be willing to accept the demand of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) to open a special parliamentary investigation into the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, carried out by the preceding Lee Myung-bak administration, so that the opposition would throw its support behind a pension system overhaul.

The prospect has gained credibility in recent days, with the Park Geun-hye government prioritizing the passage of the pension reform bill. The administration urged the National Assembly to pass the bill to rein in the pension system, which would require more than 50 trillion won ($46.4 billion) in tax payers’ money over the next 10 years to keep it afloat as it stands now.

Though the opposition has stated that it will only consent to the pension reform bill after social consensus is reached on the issue, it agrees that modifying the pension program for government workers is necessary for fiscal sustainability.

The fact that the NPAD has consistently called for a parliamentary investigation into the restoration project has led many observers to assume it will join hands in passing the pension bill in return for a special probe that would investigate former Blue House and government officials.

The 22 trillion won construction initiative was launched in 2009 under the guise of restoring Korea’s four major rivers. Lee pushed the controversial project, contending it would provide water security and control and prevent the floods that occur each year during the summer rainy season. He also claimed it would increase jobs in the construction sector.

Environmental activists have long criticized the project, claiming dam construction under the project seriously harmed water quality and led to widespread algal blooms in the Han and Nakdong Rivers, a primary water source for 10 million people in the area.

Saenuri lawmaker Kim Jae-won’s remarks on Monday that all pending issues, including the pension reform bill and the special investigation against Lee’s policy projects could be up for discussion, raised hopes that a bipartisan deal could be reached.

However, following a meeting with his Saenuri counterpart Lee Wan-koo, NPAD floor leader Woo Yoon-keun reiterated his party’s stance yesterday that the Saenuri and opposition, as well as the administration and a labor union for government workers, should establish a committee in order to work out an agreement.

Despite Woo’s remarks, observers said the prospect of a “big deal” shouldn’t be ruled out just yet.

“The most basic principle in politics is reaching a conclusion [that is satisfactory for all involved] during negotiations,” a senior NPAD official was quoted as saying yesterday by the JoongAng Ilbo. “If task force teams from the two parties agree on a deadline to pass the reform bill, there is no reason why the bill cannot be passed [by the end of this year].”


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

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