Published : 2013-01-21 18:55
Updated : 2013-01-21 18:55
One in three lawmakers still retains at least one other lucrative job, recent data shows, drawing the public’s attention again to whether political parties are ready to carry out their pledges to curtail privileges enjoyed by parliamentarians. Of the 300 members in the current National Assembly elected in April, 96 engage in profitable activities on top of their legislative duties. One lawmaker holds nine different posts, according to data from the parliamentary secretariat, which was obtained and made available by a civic group last week.
Most lawmakers will not agree that they are negligent on their duties. But the fact that a third of legislators can take time out to do other profitable work as lawyers, professors, doctors and corporate executives may well augment public perception that the legislature has more than enough members, who employ too many staff.
Korean legislators, who are paid 10.36 million won ($9,780) per month, aside from family allowances, may have the least need for moonlighting. Each of them is also assisted by seven full-time staffers, whose combined annual salaries funded by state coffers amount to 380 million won.
It is only natural for the growing public grievance with the costly and inefficient legislature to lead to calls to cut the number of lawmakers and remove their excessive privileges.
To be fair to the legislature, it has much work that requires its members to devote all their time and attention to ― enacting bills to help ease people’s increasing economic hardships and improve national competitiveness, and checking against reckless spending and policy failures of the executive branch. Legislators should focus on their duties, holding parliamentary sessions throughout the year.
A month before the Dec. 19 presidential vote, the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic United Party agreed on a set of measures to enhance the efficiency of the Assembly, including banning its members from retaining other lucrative jobs during their terms as legislators. In the final stretch of the election campaign, the rival parties competed to put forward more pledges to abolish or diminish privileges for lawmakers in a move that critics said was mainly motivated to woo support from independent voters disillusioned with the political establishment.
When the DUP promised to push for a 30 percent cut in legislators’ salaries, Saenuri officials proposed reducing the number of parliamentary seats.
The two parties, however, appeared totally oblivious of their pledges to reform the legislature after the presidential election, in which Saenuri candidate Park Geun-hye defeated DUP contender Moon Jae-in by a slight margin. No reform proposals were enacted or even discussed during the extra parliamentary session convened in late December, during which lawmakers were preoccupied with securing money to finance pork-barrel projects in their districts.
In the face of mounting public criticism over their failure to keep their word, the parties promised to set up a bipartisan committee to speed up the work on political and legislative reform. Substantial progress should be made during a special Assembly session that is to be held this month. Focus is likely to be put on confirmation hearings on President-elect Park’s key personnel appointments, approving a government reorganization scheme and passing bills designed to support people’s livelihoods. But keen attention should be paid to whether the parties will follow through with proposals to cut or abolish privileges for lawmakers.
More debate may be needed on some complicated issues, such as the reduction of parliamentary seats. But there is no reason to further delay enacting what the parties have already agreed on, including preventing lawmakers from engaging in other profitable work and scrapping a generous pension scheme for retired legislators. Politicians should recognize they can no longer shun or water down the mounting calls for changing politics and making legislators more accountable to voters. Further failure to enact reform measures will amplify public frustration and anger, which is certain to transform into an overwhelming tide that will engulf the political establishment in elections to come.