Posted September. 09, 2010 11:32,
National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae recently said the annual salary of a lawmaker has remained frozen for 13 years and wants a raise. He said lawmakers have had no raises since taking a pay cut to share the pain at the time of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. Park might have spoken for other legislators who dared not ask for a pay increase for fear of public criticism. His comments are outright lies, however. The annual salary of a lawmaker has steadily risen from 68.2 million won (58,191 U.S. dollars) in 1998 to 100.1 million won (86,092 dollars) in 2004, 106.7 million won (91,041 dollars) in 2007, and 113 million won (96,416 dollars) in 2008. The salary was frozen just this year and last year.
Park said lawmakers are eligible for minister-level treatment but that their pay level is lower than that of a vice minister. Yet in addition to salary, a lawmaker gets more than 500 million won (426,621 dollars) worth of other expenses, including salaries for assistants and expenses for office and overseas travel. Retired legislators also receive 1.2 million won (1,024 dollars) in monthly retirement benefits after turning 65 (The Dong-A Ilbo said before that they should not receive such benefits). Is it fair for them to complain about their petty salaries?
On Sept. 16, the ruling and opposition parties will vote on a proposal on reforming the municipal and provincial administrative system, including a clause on the abolishment of district councils. Whether the proposal will be passed is uncertain because certain ruling party legislators as well as opposition lawmakers are opposed to the clause. They simply do not want to abolish district councils because many members are close confidants of lawmakers. Well-functioning councils can help promote grassroots democracy by providing checks and balances on mayors, county chiefs or district office heads. It is a different story, however, if council members collude to promote their own interests, commit irregularities, or simply serve as lawmakers henchmen.
Rep. Kang Sung-jong of the main opposition Democratic Party has been arrested on the charge of embezzling 8.1 billion won (6.9 million dollars) of school funds. The National Assembly passed a motion for his arrest, the first to come in a parliamentary session in 15 years, showing that legislators have defended their own interests. The ruling Grand National Party is selecting priority bills for a fair society to be deliberated in the next regular parliamentary session. The Democratic Party is clamoring to criticize President Lee Myung-baks fair society initiative for lacking sincerity. Ruling and opposition lawmakers should first ask if they are fair.
Nearly one million people in the country remain jobless. Parliamentary speaker Park and other lawmakers must be aware of the public`s frustration and pain. A National Assembly so indulged in its sense of privilege has no right to talk about a fair society.