Ending lawmakers’ perks
Self-reform plans must not be just lip service
Political parties are nothing if they don’t compete with one another in almost everything. Yet voters are rather bewildered with the ongoing competition among rival parties to cut back on privileges enjoyed by lawmakers for its reason and timing.
The governing Saenuri Party got a head start early this month by putting forth a six-point self-reform plan, which calls for, among other things, ending lawmakers’ immunity from arrest, prohibiting holding more than one job, doing away with pensions and applying no-work, no-pay rules. The main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) went one step further and proposed the recall of ``faulty” lawmakers.
All these proposals are going in the desirable direction, which should have been turned into reality far earlier had the Korean parliamentarians been a little less elitist and greedy.
But why have they seemingly turned around almost overnight? And, why now? Is this the start of genuine reform or just part of election-year politics?
It will be easy to know the answers. The parties are in for serious reform if they agree to put into action the easiest parts and those they have in common in their respective proposals, such as the pension abolition and ban on concurrent office, and jointly try to solve problems in more difficult parts, such as the non-apprehension privilege and recall.
If the ruling and opposition camps focus on finding problems in each other’s plans ― like the tough anti-violence provision in the Saenuri proposal and anti-railroading rule in the DUP plan ― the rare moves by the political community will end up as more lip service to win the hearts of voters in the run-up to the Dec. 19 presidential election, deepening only popular distrust in politics as a whole and hardening voter empathy.
It should be apparent to anyone’s eyes which way they must go.
Again, some proposals are easier than others to implement with bipartisan efforts. Voters, for instance, can hardly understand why the lawmakers, most of whom have previous professions, should receive additional pension if they only serve for just one day as a parliamentarian. Nor can voters think favorably of the ``two-job tribes,” considering the heavy, time-consuming workload of lawmakers if they decide to fulfill their duty appropriately. It is long past time for Koreans to condone ``polifessors,” ``polinalists” and ``politainers.”
This is not least because of the heavy amount of taxpayer money and other resources spent on lawmakers. In Korea, a single lawmaker spends about up to 600 million won ($510,000) for himself and a maximum nine aides a year. Reports say there are about 200 perquisites enjoyed by lawmakers, such as free rides on trains and planes, chauffeur-driven sedans, free or cheap use of gyms and fitness centers, two overseas trips a year… etc.
Voters know politicians’ biggest lie is their pledge to serve the people. The larger and the more varied these perks are, the deeper voter skepticism grows.
The Japanese and Singaporean parliamentarians have recently slashed their salaries by 14 and 3 percent, respectively. If Korean voters hear similar news here, they will at least begin to recognize their representatives’ sincerity.