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Parliamentary committee approves 245 trillion-won closing account

Parliamentary committee approves 245 trillion-won closing account

Posted November. 28, 2013 07:12,   


Parliamentary review of next year’s state budget is picking up speed.

Respective standing committees and the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts started review of the budget bill for next year. The ruling and opposition parties presented the target to approve budget plans by December 16 through a fast tract review. However, alarm bells are ringing in different segments of parliament that the deliberation of the state budget by the National Assembly will not be finished within the year and delayed to early next year, and that a provisional budget thus could be established for the first time in the nation’s constitutional history.

Since 2003, the National Assembly has never deliberated a budget bill by the constitutional deadline for approval (December 2). “Last-minute deliberation” in which the budget bill is barely approved just before the ‘ultimate deadline’ of December 31, has become a deep-rooted practice. Then what is the reason that some raise concern over the possibility to establish a provisional budget, which can be considered the Korean version of ‘government shutdown,’ this year alone?

○ The only year lacking Assembly Speaker’s discretionary submission, automatic submission, control measure

At a joint meeting of his party’s supreme veteran lawmakers held at the party headquarters in Yeouido, Seoul on Wednesday, ruling Saenuri Party Chairman Hwang Woo-yea said, “It is time that parties engage in non-partisan cooperation to ensure that all lawmakers’ commitment to prevent establishment of a provisional budget can bear fruition.”

There are a number of factors that the country cannot afford to disregard his remarks merely as "exaggerated action" by the ruling Party in this year when compared with previous years. For one, the budgetary review has started review of the budget bill way too later than in previous years. This is because parliamentary schedules have been continuously delayed amid intensifying conflict between the rival parties over state agencies’ alleged intervention in the presidential election.

In the case of last year, the previous year’s closing account was approved on September 3. But the same account will be deliberated at the main Assembly session on November 28 this year. Due to delays in review of the previous year’s budget, review of the next year’s budget has also been automatically put off. Last year, the National Assembly held a public hearing and thus started review of the budget bill on October 30, but it only began the process on November 26 this year. The schedule thus has been delayed as long as month than last year.

Review of a budget bill takes three weeks to one month to complete. This is an estimate only in a situation where the rival parties can seamlessly make compromises. Last year, it took more than two months. Watchers say if the current political situation continues, it would be virtually impossible to achieve the goal of concluding review of the budget bill in 20 days by December 16.

Notably in this year, the National Assembly Speaker’s submission of the budget bill at his own discretion or the bill’s automatic submission is not allowed. In previous years, including last year, the ruling party would pressure the opposition parties by using “submission of the bill in the Speaker’s own discretion” as its bargaining chip, if the rival parties continue their tug of war to the last minute. However, the Act on Advancement of the National Assembly has completely blocked the possibility for the Speaker to submit a budget ball in his own capacity. Instead, as a measure to cushion shock, the ruling and opposition parties agreed that if review of the budget bill is not completed by 48 hours (November 30) before the constitutional deadline for approval, it is automatically submitted to the main Assembly session on December 1, the next day. However, the implementation of the system to automatically submit a budget bill was postponed to next year due to opposition by the Strategy and Finance Ministry, which felt burden from early submission of a budget bill.

After all, this year has become the only year when the ruling party has no practical alternative measure to deliberate a budget bill on its own, were it not for opposition parties’ cooperation. For this reason, watchers say that the rival parties could launch a game of chicken even by risking the establishment of a provisional budget.

○ Standing committees refer closing accounts to Committee on Budget and Accounts without review

In the face of pressing schedules ahead of the deliberation of closing accounts set on Thursday, the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, the Strategy and Finance Committee and the Intelligence Committee are found to have submitted their closing accounts without standing committee review.

A case in which closing accounts were referred to the Committee on Budget and Accounts without preliminary review has occurred for the first time in four years after the case involving the Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Committee during the 18th National Assembly in 2009, and the Education Committee during the 17th National Assembly in 2003. Generally, members of respective standing committees review and analyze situation of budget and progress in projects of respective government agencies in the course of preliminary review by the respective committees, before submitting them to the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts along with opinions such as “need for correction,” “alert,” and “need to improve system.” Such opinions serve as important references in implementation and establishment of budget plan for the next year.

There is serious worry over the Strategy and Finance Committee’s reckless hasty deliberation of its closing account, whose income and expenditure settlement accounts alone amount to 245 trillion won (420 billion dollars). The closing account subcommittee, which was convened three times last year because the main opposition party demanded the Strategy and Finance Ministry to disclose the list of the National Intelligence Service’s expenditures of reserve fund allocated to the Strategy and Finance Ministry, has never taken place this year.

“The results of preliminary review by standing committees are an issue that even the government feels significant burden,” said a source at the main opposition Democratic Party at the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts. “The government should be breathing sigh of relief (over the shelving of preliminary review).”