Dozens of bills held hostage over pensions row

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Dozens of bills held hostage over pensions row

The National Assembly approved only three out of several dozen pending bills in a voting session Tuesday, as discord between the ruling and opposition parties continued over a plan to change the national pension scheme.

The lawmakers approved a revision to the income tax law to provide additional year-end reimbursement to taxpayers. About 456 billion won ($416 million) will be refunded to 6.38 million people based on the change.

Another law passed Tuesday was a plan to allow regional governments to issue bonds to finance free day care programs. The lawmakers also approved a plan to better protect tenants in commercial properties.

The ruling Saenuri Party criticized the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) for holding other bills hostage in the negotiations on pension reform.

“It is embarrassing that we are holding a voting session just to pass three bills,” Rep. Yoo Seong-min, Saenuri floor leader, said Tuesday morning. “About 60 bills already passed the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, but the opposition floor leader and the chairman of the committee did not allow them to advance to the voting session.”

“The bills concerning people’s livelihoods and the plan to revise the law governing the civil servants’ pensions must be dealt with separately,” he said. “We tried to persuade the NPAD to approve more bills at today’s session, but it was not easy.”

Deputy floor leaders of the two parties - Rep. Cho Hae-jin of the Saenuri Party and Rep. Lee Chun-seok of the NPAD - had talks on Monday and agreed that only three bills would be voted on at the Tuesday session. On May 6, the Legislation and Judiciary Committee approved 63 bills, but the committee chairman, Rep. Lee Sang-min of the NPAD, won’t move forward.

The legislative standstill started last week. The two sides struck a deal earlier this month on a bill to reform the civil servants’ pension system.

However, the NPAD also insisted on a change in the national pension system, a separate system altogether that covers more than 21.1 million people, the Saenuri Party opposed it.

The NPAD is demanding a written agreement on a future change to the national pension system to increase payments to people. Currently, the national pension guarantees people 40 percent of their working salaries after retirement. The NPAD wants that income-replacement ratio raised to 50 percent.

The Saenuri Party rejected the demand and President Park Geun-hye also denounced the notion. She said the lawmakers overstepped their mandate to reform the civil servants’ pension system and tried to pull a fast one without consulting the public.

While the Saenuri Party demanded that all the bills that were ready should be voted on, the NPAD insisted that it will only allow voting on the three bills to protest the Saenuri Party’s behavior.

“I tried all day yesterday to persuade the opposition leaders to vote on all the pending bills, but I was told that they can only allow three bills to be passed,” Cho, deputy floor leader of the Saenuri Party, said.

“I was despondent when the opposition told me I should be thankful that they were allowing the three bills to be voted on. I cannot agree with their point of view that legislative activity is a bargaining chip. Legislative activity is an intrinsic duty of the National Assembly.”

Rep. Lee Jong-kul, floor leader of the NPAD, said Tuesday that the ruling party should be held accountable for the delay in the civil servants’ pension reform by abandoning an agreement to please the president.

“When an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties is repeatedly dumped at the dictates of the Blue House, the National Assembly will become meaningless,” he said. “The Park administration and the Blue House must remember what a separation of power means.”

President Park renewed her pressure on the legislature Tuesday, saying that the debt-ridden civil servants’ pension system must be reformed as soon as possible, but the national pension system must not be fiddled with. In opening remarks at a cabinet meeting Tuesday, Park gave a lengthy statement urging lawmakers to reform the pension scheme.

If the reform had been approved, the economic burden on the government to keep the civil servants’ pension scheme afloat would have been reduced from 10 billion won a day to 6 billion won.

“For now, the top priority is reforming the civil servants’ pension, based on the discussions we had over the past year,” Park said. “And any change to the national pension system must be decided prudently.”

But Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung complained about her interference, demanding the ruling party be left alone to deal with the issue.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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