Lawmakers-elect criticized for pampered careKorean voters expressed their disgust toward obsolete political practices in the April 13 general election, filling 132 of the 300-member National Assembly with rookies, and even before the National Assembly begins its four-year tenure at the end of this month, these novices apparently wasted no time indulging in special treatments.
The National Assembly hosted the orientation for the first-time lawmakers-elect on Wednesday. The event, organized by the Parliamentary Training Office, had a rocky start. Of the 132 rookie lawmakers-elect, only 90 arrived at the National Assembly Memorial Hall at 10 a.m., the starting time of the program. About 20 were late, and the rest didn’t come. A Saenuri lawmaker-elect, who didn’t show up for the orientation program, later told the JoongAng Ilbo that he instead visited community centers in his district to thank voters.
During the morning, the participants attended special lectures by former and incumbent National Assembly speakers and vice speakers. Former Speaker Kim Won-ki advised them to “take initiatives to end the corrupt practices of politics.”
“Remember, a lawmaker is not a higher authority but a person with a higher responsibility,” Minjoo Rep. Lee Seok-hyun, the current vice speaker, advised them during his speech.
Following the lectures, the lawmakers-elect attended a luncheon, hosted at the National Assembly Members’ Office Building. The two buildings are located about 300 meters (328 yards) apart, and the National Assembly Secretariat prepared six buses to transport them.
After arriving at the building, the participants entered through a glass automatic door located at the center of the facade that is exclusively reserved for lawmakers, and which media have long criticized as a symbol of lawmakers’ unreasonable privilege. Lawmakers’ aides and all other visitors are only permitted to enter the building using a small revolving door directly beside the larger one.
The participants then moved one floor up to the lobby where the luncheon was held. The National Assembly reserved three elevators for them, barring others from using them.
At the luncheon, the lawmakers-elect raised wine glasses and toasted. “To a National Assembly that will work!” they shouted. “To politicians who will earn their keep!”
Following the luncheon, the National Assembly gave a presentation to the participants at around 3 p.m. concerning their salaries, benefits and other expenses. According to the presentation, a lawmaker will receive 6.46 million won ($5,540) monthly, a legislative activity account containing 3.14 million won and 710,000 won for extra expenses.
After the orientation faced criticism for pampering the new officials, the National Assembly Secretariat said Thursday it only prepared the event based on the manual used four years ago for the previous National Assembly.
An official of the Parliamentary Training Office, which prepared the program, said the bus ride from one building to another was in order to secure the smooth operation of the event. “I am not sure about the exact distance between the two venues, but it takes about 10 minutes by foot,” he said. “So for smooth operation of the event, we prepared the buses.”
He also defended the move by saying that the buses were not specially chartered, and they were the commuter buses of the National Assembly workers.
The National Assembly staff, however, failed to defend its holding of elevators to move the lawmakers-elect up one floor. The official of the Parliamentary Training Office instead referred the JoongAng Ilbo to the public affairs office of the National Assembly.
The public affairs office said it will improve the orientation program, but insisted that it just followed the customary practice.
BY NAMKOONG WOOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]