Published : 2013-01-04 20:07
Updated : 2013-01-04 20:07
Lawmakers on the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Budget and Accounts have shown that all the talk in political circles about a new politics was nothing more than lip service.
According to reports, they handled the 2013 budget bill in the same old and lousy way as before. They did not make even a modicum of effort to cast away old practices and establish new ones.
In the first place, they turned the process of deliberating on the budget proposal into a series of back-door deals on allocation of funds to pork-barrel projects. They held no formal meetings at the National Assembly; they fine-tuned the details of the budget through secret negotiations in hotel rooms.
The nine lawmakers on the committee’s subcommittee on numbers adjustment accommodated a total of 4,500 funding requests from their colleagues, various government agencies and interest groups.
In this process, they increased funds for infrastructure projects, mostly pork barrel projects, by 550 billion won. The figure included 51.7 billion won set aside for the constituencies of the seven members of the subcommittee.
Funding for pork barrel projects were increased at the expense of an array of defense projects. To the dismay of defense officials, many important weapons development schemes suffered deep cuts in expenditure.
The unscrupulous lawmakers even slashed as much as 282 billion won from the funds set aside to provide free health care to people in the lowest income bracket.
According to reports, the legislators also broke the rules on budget deliberation by leaving no records of their back-door dealings.
They capped their lousy handling of the budget bill with overseas junkets funded by taxpayers’ money.
News reports say that the lawmakers left the country in two groups, one for Latin America and the other for Africa, shortly after the budget bill was passed.
The main purpose of the trips was to study the budget systems of the countries they visited, which included Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
But their itineraries make it difficult to believe that they are visiting the countries for research. Furthermore, they left Korea even without informing their party leaders of their schedules.
As public criticism mounted, one of the lawmakers, Chang Yoon-seok of the Saenuri Party who heads the budget committee, reportedly called from Mexico to say that he would cut short his trip. Other lawmakers should follow suit.
The controversy should serve as an occasion for lawmakers to renew their commitment to reform politics and hold themselves up for higher standards.