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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 6)

All News 07:09 July 06, 2018

Wasteful Assembly
Lawmakers should abolish 'special activities' expenses

The National Assembly has come under mounting criticism for its outdated practice of having expenses for "special activities."

The Assembly was found to have used more than 24 billion won ($21 million) on the so-called special allowances for lawmakers from 2011 to 2013, according to the civic group People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy. The Assembly disclosed how parts of the special allowance had been spent, following three years of litigation filed by the civic group to make the details public.

A big chunk of the special allowance is given to those who hold key posts in the Assembly, such as the speaker, floor leaders and heads of the Assembly's standing and special committees. All lawmakers also receive incentives for "policy development."

The purpose of the Assembly's special allowance system is to assist lawmakers in their public duties, such as confidential investigations. But this is far from the reality. The information disclosed by the civic group confirms widespread public suspicions that the lawmakers are spending it like their own pocket money.

The Assembly's special allowance system came to public attention when former main opposition Liberty Korea Party leader Hong Joon-pyo, who ran against President Moon Jae-in in the 2017 presidential election, admitted to using it personally when he was serving as the head of the House Steering Committee in 2008. He said he had taken home some of the money and given it to his wife during prosecutorial questioning in 2015, adding he had the right to do what he wanted with the money since it was his. His remarks fueled calls to abolish the system. But since then, no progress has been made with regard to promoting transparency of the special allowance.

The biggest problem is that lawmakers are not required to submit receipts of their spending; so there is no way of knowing exactly who is spending how much and on what.

Korean lawmakers are already notorious for collecting hefty paychecks and enjoying all kinds of privileges while not doing much. It is wrong to maintain the special allowance system that is being abused as lawmakers' second paychecks.

It is time for the Assembly to do away with the lax management of the special allowance system. Parties should consider the proposal made by Roh Hoe-chan, floor leader of the minor Justice Party, in light of the public outrage over the special allowances. Roh suggested during a press conference Thursday to leave out the special allowance from the Assembly 2019 budget and disclose the spending of the money that has already been paid out this year. This is a sensible suggestion that could be the start of raising the Assembly's transparency.

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