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[Op-Ed] Deadline for Passing Budget Bill

Posted December. 02, 2008 03:38,   


Article 54, Clause II of the Constitution says the National Assembly must pass the budget bill 30 days before the beginning of a fiscal year. This means the deadline for fiscal 2009 is today, Dec. 2. In 1993, then President Kim Young-sam was especially serious about meeting this deadline in his first year in office. It was an expression of his political commitment that his civilian government was fundamentally different from previous military rulers who had seized power through a coup in violation of the Constitution. His obsession with the deadline was what sparked unprecedented controversy over the passing of a makeshift budget bill.

With the deadline approaching, Kim told then National Assembly Speaker Lee Man-sup that the deadline must be met no matter what as stipulated by the Constitution. Lee said, “We cannot rush the bill through. You were adamantly opposed to such haste when you were the chairman of the opposition party.” Kim then ordered Kim Jong-pil, then chairman of the ruling Democratic Liberal Party, to keep the deadline the next day. The bill failed to pass, however, due to an extreme backlash of the opposition party, forcing the ruling party to renegotiate with its counterpart. When both parties agreed to pass the bill five days later, Kim took a softer stance and said. “All’s well that ends well.”

Kim emphasized the importance of keeping the deadline as if it was a divine rule, but the Constitution never required meeting the deadline. At first, it only said budget bills should be deliberated and decided on by the National Assembly. The clause stipulating the deadline was inserted when the Constitution was revised in December 1962 immediately after the military coup. This shows that the military regime placed efficiency before independence of the National Assembly. The clause ironically sparked huge political controversy when a civil government took power, though never an issue under previous military governments.

To many, this year may be reminiscent of 1993. The ruling Grand National Party has given up on meeting the official deadline of Dec. 2, but is pushing the main opposition Democratic Party to pass the budget no later than Dec. 9, the last day of the regular session of the National Assembly. Ruling party floor leader Hong Joon-pyo said, “We’re aware of the 172 seats given by the people,” indicating that his party could try to force the bill through. Politicians may once again be engrossed in heated controversy over railroading the bill, but there is one clear difference from 1993, when Kim’s obsession with the deadline was purely symbolic. This time, lawmakers must deal with the bill at a time when keeping the deadline will have real implications for the troubled economy.

Editorial Writer Kim Chang-hyeok (chang@donga.com)