A flailing legislature“A legislature working for the people” is the phrase on the top of the National Assembly’s website. It should ask itself if it deserves the motto. Instead of tending to matters that are urgent to ease the hardship of everyday people and review reform bills to help revive corporate sentiment and the economy, the legislature is entirely engrossed in self-serving political interests.
The National Assembly, which has been idle for more than two months, finally started work again. The statute mandating ad hoc sessions in February, April, June and August is rarely kept. The 30-day extraordinary session that kicked off on Thursday has piles of bills to deal with. The changes to the education law, the expansion of flextime and stronger punishment for violence in the sports community are some of them. The bills designed to improve air quality and enhance protection against dust pollution have also been gathering dust. Another contentious issue is electoral reform. Prospects are murky as rival parties are more determined to gain the upper hand in the war of tension rather than gathering their heads for lawmaking. The opposition is gearing up to attack the ruling party on illicit hiring practices in the public sector under the current government, real estate speculation involving Rep. Sohn Hye-won and blacklists from the Environment Ministry. Bickering may make more news than bipartisanship.
Korea’s social conflict is deepening amid the absence of the legislature. The tripartite committee failed to reach a final agreement on the flextime revision outline that was settled last month because three members representing the labor sector did not show up to the final committee meeting. The dysfunctional role of a social consensus panel demands more aggressive engagement by the legislative. If the assembly fails to pass the flextime bill, many employers could be fined as the grace period on the universal enforcement of 52-hour workweek expires at the end of this month.
Extending flextime was an agreement made among the rival parties in December. Despite the political agreement, the president chose to have the tripartite labor panel come up with a voluntary outline. Because the Assembly failed to do its duty, the issue has become more complicated. The parliament also shares the blame for the protracted conflict between the carpool and taxi industries, complications with the first for-profit hospital in Jeju Island and the kindergarten crisis. An independent legislative advisory body proposed a revision to the National Assembly Act to call ad hoc sessions every month to make the parliament work throughout the year. The Assembly must do its job this time.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 8, Page 30