A group of lawmakers criticized for back-door deals to insert pork-barrel projects into the national budget has again come under fire for leaving on costly overseas trips using taxpayers’ money.
On Tuesday, the Saenuri Party’s Rep. Chang Yoon-seok, the chair of the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts, and fellow Reps. Kim Jae-kyung and Kweon Seong-dong, along with Reps. Ahn Gyu-baek and Min Hong-chul of the Democratic United Party left for an 11-day trip to Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama.
On the following day, the ruling party’s Reps. Kim Hack-yong and Kim Sung-tae and DUP’s Reps. Choi Jae-sung and Rep. Hong Young-pyo left for a tour of Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Kim Hack-yong and Choi are the two main parties’ executive secretaries for the budget committee, while Kim Sung-tae and Hong were involved in the budget modification subcommittee.
The cost of the two trips, 150 million won ($140,000), is being covered by the National Assembly budget.
The concerned lawmakers appear unlikely to avoid heavy criticism despite the stated purpose of learning about other nations’ budget review systems as the trips follow hard on the heels of a record-setting delay in the budget’s passage.
On Tuesday, the budget was passed in January for the first time in 57 years, despite the constitutional stipulation that it needs to be processed by the Dec. 2 deadline.
In addition, the activities of the subcommittee in the weeks running up to the budget’s passage have come under scrutiny for allegedly reviewing requests for additional funding from various lawmakers behind closed doors.
According to the reports, the subcommittee set up offices in two hotel rooms in Seoul to process 4,500 memos for extra funding. This led to as much as 550 billion won in additional funding being allocated to infrastructure projects, a large part of which went to the constituencies of senior politicians including Reps. Hwang Woo-yea and Park Jei-won, respectively the ruling party chair and former DUP floor leader.
The trips and the custom of lawmakers flexing political muscle for additional budget funds for their constituencies have incited criticism from observers including Kang Ji-won, the lawyer who ran in the presidential election.
“They know that the issue will subside after a while. If the president-elect and the incoming administration are indeed new, then this should be fixed first,” Kang said in a radio interview on Thursday. He added that the concerned lawmakers need to apologize and reimburse the public purse if necessary.
He went on to criticize the budget process, saying that lawmakers who used their influence to gain extra funding were “no different from gang bosses.”
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org