A belated big deal
The ruling and opposition parties agreed to form bipartisan special committees within the year to come to a consensus on reforms for the government employees’ pension program and separately to probe large-scale overseas resource development projects undertaken in the previous administration. They will launch another joint investigation on the shady connection between military officials and the private defense industry depending upon the prosecution’s findings. They also agreed to pass various economy-related bills in the plenary session on Dec. 29.
The bipartisan breakthrough is a long-awaited sign of progress. The two parties compromised on reform for pensions for retired government employees and a parliamentary probe into the four-rivers restoration project, overseas resource development and the defense industry. Legislative power is crucial during challenging times like these. No public policy is good unless it has the stamp of the legislature. The country has made little progress recently due to political disputes and the National Assembly Advance Law.
The National Assembly plenary session that closed on Tuesday did not accomplish more than passing the budgetary bill before the legal deadline for the first time in 12 years. After a two-month hiatus from wrangling over a special law on the April 16 Sewol ferry sinking, the National Assembly rushed to rubber-stamp 130 bills. Yet key bills like the anti-corruption law, real estate-related deregulations, a services industry law and medical services revisions were shelved.
Like with everything else, timing is essential in lawmaking. Japan was mired in stagnation for decades because of messy political fights and impasse in parliament. The United States made a similar mistake. It brought about a global-scale catastrophe by missing the deadline to contain the financial meltdown following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 due to a dispute over the emergency bailout fund of $700 billion.
The task of reforming the money-losing pension scheme for retired government workers cannot be delayed for the sake of the sustainability of public finance. The real estate stimuli measures won’t do any good unless they come in time to spur domestic demand. The legislature also should accelerate its review of the law to sever ties between officialdom and the business sector, and allow deregulation measures and reform in public enterprises. Political compromise can help put the country back on a sustainable growth track. Let the fighting cease and work begin. JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 11, Page 34