Lawmakers protest ‘unfair’ committee assignments

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Lawmakers protest ‘unfair’ committee assignments

Rookie lawmakers are increasingly protesting their standing committee assignments as they feel allocations were made unfairly and without considering their wishes or expertise, while Saenuri heavyweights were assigned to powerful committees.

Since Tuesday morning, Rep. Chu Hye-seon of the Justice Party has staged a rare protest at the National Assembly to object to her assignment to the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee.

Chu, who has worked for 20 years in a media-related civic group, became a Justice Party proportional representative through the April general election. The first-term lawmaker applied to serve on the Science, ICT, Future Planning, Broadcasting and Communications Committee, which oversees the media industry, but her request was rejected.

“It’s like sending a football player to a basketball game,” she said.

Independent lawmaker Yoon Jong-o, a former labor unionist of Hyundai Motor who wanted to serve on the Environment and Labor Committee, was instead assigned to serve on the broadcasting committee.

Chu and Yoon were the victims of negotiations among the three largest political parties. As the Saenuri Party, Minjoo Party and People’s Party discussed who would serve on which committee, requests by the six Justice Party lawmakers and 11 independent representatives were ignored.

Deputy floor leaders of the three major parties adjusted the quota of each committee in order to increase the numbers of members on popular committees. As a result, the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Committee was given 31 seats. The Trade, Industry and Energy Committee was allotted 30 and the Education, Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee 29.

The Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee was reduced to 22 members, and the Defense Committee was reduced to 17.

The Environment and Labor Committee was reduced to 16 members - seven from the Minjoo Party, six from the Saenuri Party and two from the People’s Party. One seat was allocated to a Justice Party lawmaker or an independent lawmaker.

After Rep. Yoon and Justice Party Rep. Lee Jeong-mi applied for that one seat on the labor committee, National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun made some adjustments using his authority. Chung assigned Lee to the labor committee, Yoon to the broadcasting committee and Chu, who requested a seat on the broadcasting committee, to the foreign affairs committee.

“The National Assembly allows dozens of lawmakers to work for committees that are capable of winning pork-barrel projects,” said Rep. Roh Hoe-chan, floor leader of the Justice Party. “But why can’t it allow one labor expert’s desire to serve on the labor committee? There is no justice, no conscience, only greed.”

Complaints were also heard by a Minjoo representative. Rep. Park Hong-geun, a two-term lawmaker, applied to serve on the education committee but was sent to the broadcasting committee. “During my first term, I served on the education committee, and I have some bills that I prepared with education groups,” he said. “But suddenly I was assigned to a different committee. I was forced to make a sacrifice because no second-term lawmaker volunteered to serve it.”

An official of the National Assembly secretariat told the JoongAng Ilbo that the Justice Party’s case was inevitable. “We tried to treat the independent lawmakers and Justice Party fairly,” he said, “so we could not allocate all Justice Party lawmakers to their desired committees.”

Rep. Park Jie-won, floor leader of the People’s Party, visited the protest of Rep. Chu and other Justice Party lawmakers on Wednesday and promised to correct the situation.

“This was clearly wrong,” he said. “We will cooperative to correct the problem. Until yesterday, I thought the Justice Party assigned lawmakers on its own, and I thought it was not something I should meddle in. But then I realized what had happened, and I offer an apology.”

Rep. Kim Jong-dae, spokesman for the Justice Party, appreciated Park’s support. “I demand that the National Assembly speaker and leaders of the Minjoo Party and Saenuri Party resolve this situation,” he said.

While the rookie lawmakers were struggling with their assignments, Saenuri heavyweights picked committees considered powerful and lucrative, without taking their expertise into account.

Former Trade Minister Yoon Sang-jick will serve on the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, while former Security and Public Administration Minister Chong Jong-sup will serve on the land and infrastructure committee. Rep. Choi Gyo-il, former chief prosecutor of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, will serve on the Strategy and Finance Committee.

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