Parties still at stalemate over pension reform plan

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Parties still at stalemate over pension reform plan

President Park Geun-hye’s ambitious plan to reform the debt-ridden civil servants’ pension system remained up in the air as the ruling and opposition parties failed to close the gap on the issue on Sunday during their discussion on the legislative timetable for this month.

The top negotiators of the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) had their first meeting on Sunday after the NPAD elected its new floor leader, Representative Lee Jong-kul. Lee, who was chosen for the position Thursday, paid a visit to his Saenuri counterpart, Yoo Seong-min.

A monthlong extra session at the National Assembly is scheduled to open today, and the two sides agreed to hold a voting session on Tuesday to pass a revision on the income tax law and a bill to allow local governments to issue bonds to finance free childcare programs.

Another voting session was also scheduled for May 28.

A key topic in their meeting was the legislature’s failure to keep its self-imposed deadline to pass a bill to reform the debt-ridden public employees’ pension. The two parties struck a deal earlier this month and agreed to pass the bill on Wednesday but ended up failing to vote on it.

While the NPAD insisted that a change in the national pension, which is subscribed to by more than 21.1 million people, should also be stipulated, the Saenuri Party rejected the demand.

The controversy flared after President Park and the public denounced the plan to modify the scheme by increasing the income replacement ratio for the national pension - the percentage of working income an individual requires to maintain the same standard of living in retirement - from the current 40 percent to 50 percent.

If the reform had been approved, the economic burden on the government to keep it afloat would have been reduced from 10 billion won ($9.18 million) a day to 6 billion won daily.

“Though we could not pass it on Wednesday, I agreed with the Saenuri Party Chairman [Kim Moo-sung] that we want to uphold the deal that we’ve reached [on May 2],” Yoo told Lee.

But Lee remained rather critical of the ruling party’s opinion.

“I must talk about trust,” Lee said. “Because trust was destroyed between the two parties, I am worried that we would be walking toward the politics of distrust.”

He also said the ruling and opposition parties must respect their own agreement to improve the efficiency of state-run pensions, including the civil servants’ pension and the national pension, demanding that the Saenuri Party must undertake a responsible measure.

The Blue House still called for approval of the plan to reform the pension scheme.

“The top priority of the May extra session should be reforming the civil servant pension system with a plan acceptable to the public,” said Kim Sung-woo, the senior presidential secretary for public affairs, on Sunday morning.


BY KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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