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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 10)

All News 07:03 August 10, 2018

'Special activity funds'

Assembly produces half-baked measures for transparency

The National Assembly is under fire for its insufficient response to mounting calls for reform of the so-called "special activity funds" for lawmakers.

Floor leaders Hong Young-pyo of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), Kim Sung-tae of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and Kim Kwan-young of the Bareunmirae Party (BMP) got together Wednesday to discuss ways to promote the transparency of the special allowance. The meeting came amid heavy criticism of lawmakers for abusing the funds that are supposed to be used to assist them in their official duties.

According to the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, lawmakers were found to have used more than 24 billion won ($21 million) from 2011 to 2013. The biggest problem with the system is that they are not required to submit receipts, so there is no way of checking how the money is spent. This has prompted widespread suspicions that lawmakers are abusing the system for personal gain. Former LKP chairman Hong Joon-pyo even admitted in 2015 during prosecutorial questioning to giving some of the funds to his wife.

During the meeting, the floor leaders agreed on some measures to reform the system, but their effectiveness is uncertain. First, the ruling party and the largest opposition agreed to submit receipts for all special activity funds starting next year. But there was no mention of downsizing the funds, which many want to see significantly reduced or abolished altogether. It is hard to understand the need for special allowances when lawmakers already receive huge paychecks and a generous budget from the secretariat for their activities.

The floor leaders agreed to form a committee under the Assembly speaker to oversee the use of the funds, but since the committee is formed mostly of the parties and only two outside members, it is doubtful whether it will be actually useful in monitoring whether the funds are being used in a legal manner. In addition, the National Assembly secretariat is planning to appeal a court decision from last month to disclose the details of the funds.

These moves give the impression the Assembly is not really serious about fixing the system and using the funds properly. They also go against Speaker Moon Hee-sang's pledge upon taking office last month to reform the use of the funds. Lawmakers should respond earnestly to the people's increasingly negative sentiment about the special activity funds.


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