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[Op-Ed] Murky Spending by Lawmakers

Posted July. 06, 2009 09:50,   


Workers who are transferred to the New York, Paris and Tokyo branches of large conglomerates or banks joke that over their three-year sojourn abroad, they have to visit John F. Kennedy Airport 50 times, the Palace of Versailles 50 times and Tokyo Tower 100 times. Those who work in New York and London each visit the Modern Museum of Art and the British Museum 100 times. Some diplomats even gather useful shopping information from tour guides in the two cities to better serve visiting lawmakers.

Between early June last year and early February this year, 114 lawmakers of the 18th National Assembly went abroad 35 times. An expenses analysis found that they spent 229 million won (180,000 U.S. dollars) on honorarium overseas. Each lawmaker spent around two million won (1,570 dollars) on honorarium apart from gift expenses. The honorarium came from taxpayers, however, not from the lawmakers. Nevertheless, the legislators only wrote “honorarium given to specific individual” on their expense reports without attaching receipts. Some even tipped diplomats with taxpayers’ money after using them as airport pickups and shopping guides. In other words, diplomats were used as part-time workers under authorization by the National Assembly and the government.

Any expense using taxpayers’ money should be used with a lot of consideration regardless of amount. If lawmakers legitimately received help from diplomats, they should not have to pay honorarium. Nevertheless, they paid the diplomats for what amounted to chores instead of official duties for the benefit of both parties. When The Dong-A Ilbo requested details of the overseas expenses of lawmakers, the National Assembly returned a vague report with no specifics on how the money was spent. Lawmakers should disclose how taxpayers’ money was spent to the public regardless of amount and recover illegitimate expenses.

The United Kingdom on its Web site last month released the expense records of 646 members of the House of Commons over the past four years. The records covered 1.2 million pages and were released in the wake of the scandal in which scores of British parliamentarians used public funds to buy kitchen utensils and clean ponds for their homes. As a result of the scandal, the House speaker stepped down, a first for Britain in 314 years, and around 10 parliamentarians announced that they will either resign or not run in the next general elections. Expenses worth one billion won (788,000 dollars) claimed by scores of British members of parliament have shaken U.K. politics to its very foundation.

Editorial Writer Hong Kwon-hee (konihong@donga.com)