Pension flip-flops stall crucial reforms
Ruling party lawmakers have proposed a bill on public servant pension reform. “The deficit of the public pension fund is expected to reach 18 trillion won ($16.2 billion) by 2030, posing a great burden on government finances and the national economy, and the discrepancy with the national pension is also problematic,” they said in the purpose statement. The reform plan includes trimming payments, putting newly hired public servants in the national pension, extending the contribution period from 33 years to 40 years and raising the eligibility age to 65 from 60.
I’m talking about a bill proposed six years ago, not the one suggested by Grand National Party members last month. This measure was the work of Rhyu Si-min, a former health minister who was an independent member of the National Assembly in January 2008. Twelve members of the ruling United New Democratic Party, now the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), signed the bill. The two bills are largely similar and the aforementioned four provisions exactly the same in each. Regardless of the administration, the direction of public pension reform is already set.
“The reform is not to punish the public servants,” said Rhyu in an interview with JTBC. “As the population structure changes to an ultra-aging society, there is no other way, whether liberals or conservatives are in power.” Of the Saenuri Party’s proposal, he said he was impressed as it is “a bit more radical than the proposal I drafted in 2008.” He supports the bill because “the problem will be more serious 10, 15 years from now. In Germany, 21 percent of the income is contributed for the pension. We pay in less, so we cannot pay out as much. The nation cannot just conjure up money for pension payments.”
Opposition politicians often oppose policies they supported when they were the ruling party, so Rhyu’s enthusiastic and open backing is noteworthy. But the NPAD is not being so frank. They acknowledged the necessity of reforming the public servants’ pension six years ago, so they must know the situation is worse now. But the opposition party repeatedly says reform cannot be passed this year, criticizing the Saenuri Party’s initiative while offering no alternative.
Rhyu remembers his pension proposal being fiercely resisted by bureaucrats and the Lee Myung-bak administration doing nothing but talk. The Park Geun-hye administration finally raised the banner over the protests of civil servants, and it would be a national catastrophe to waste those efforts because of the opposition party.
The author is a deputy political and international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 19, Page 34
by KIM JUNG-HA