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Lawmakers’ privileges

Posted December. 09, 2017 07:05,   

Updated December. 09, 2017 08:10


Severe traffic jam sometimes occurs in front of the parliamentarians’ hall at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul. Vehicles for lawmakers who are moving to the main assembly hall to attend meetings flock together there en masse. The direct distance from the hall to the main assembly hall only measures 150 meters, and the actual travel distance is no more than 250 meters, but many of the lawmakers move by car. This is a sight that is unique to Korea. It is hard to just imagine this kind of situation in European countries where lawmakers come to the parliament by bicycle and work without having any assistant.

When traveling by train, Korean lawmakers use the VIP lounge. When a lawmaker takes an overseas trip, the Korean ambassador to the country customarily comes to the airport to receive him or her. Regardless of whether meeting materials are heavy or light, lawmakers simply leave the assembly hall without holding such materials in their hand, and their assistants rush into the hall to pick up documents. Lawmakers initially feel uncomfortable seeing such a practice, but it reportedly takes less than a month for them to get accustomed to this practice. Even excluding such privileges of practice, a Korean lawmaker enjoys as many as 54 special privileges that are guaranteed under law. Although it may have declined in number of cases from the past, but some lawmakers still demand political donations at the pretext of parliamentary inspection of stage agencies.

Korean lawmakers were paid about 125,000 U.S. dollars in annual salary per seat last year, which made them the third highest paid lawmakers in the world after those of Japan and Italy. Apart from salary, they are also provided with benefits worth 84,500 dollars per year including vehicle subsidies and policy development allowance. When including 402,000 dollars in salary paid to seven aides per lawmaker, the total amount of taxpayers’ money spent for a lawmaker reaches 612,000 dollars. However, according to the World Economic Forum, the efficiency and credibility of Korean lawmakers are ranked 99th and 90th among the 139 countries surveyed, respectively. Nonetheless, the Korean National Assembly has raised lawmakers’ salary for next year by 2.6 percent, and added an assistant per lawmaker in return for reducing an internship position.

Ahead of general elections, lawmakers voluntarily vow that they will reduce their own privileges. In March 2016 just ahead of the general elections, 40 lawmakers of the then ruling Saenuri Party (currently Korea Liberty Party) promised that they would return one year’s salary if they fail to implement five-point reform measures including “no-work, no-pay principle,” but none has delivered on their promises. The Minjoo Party also made a flurry of campaign promises, such as the enactment of law banning politicians’ appointment to public posts and summoning system of corrupt lawmakers, but they all have become blank promises. Now is the time for Korean lawmakers to dump the “principle of self-regulation.”