It has turned out that none of the National Assembly’s standing committees has met the requirement of opening subcommittee meetings to process bills at least three times a month according to the revised National Assembly Act, enacted almost two years ago to require lawmakers to fulfill their obligations and responsibilities. The Secretariat of the National Assembly looked into the standing committees to see whether they held subcommittee meetings from March 2021 to last month. Last year, the Steering Committee of the National Assembly did not open any subcommittee session at all to handle the processing of pending bills. Those in charge of foreign affairs and unification; intelligence; and gender equality and family presided over only two meetings. Indeed, the survey unveils that they talk the talk but do not walk the walk.
The revised National Assembly Act stipulates that each standing committee should hold two or more general meetings and at least three subcommittee meetings per month for the sake of processing bills. Even though regular meetings may not automatically translate into lawmakers’ greater faithfulness and dedication to their duties, the revision aims to create an environment where they can engage more in legislative responsibilities. However, as it does not have any punitive clauses that are applicable in case of violation, critics point out that it is a flawed revision with loopholes included to allow for non-compliance.
The National Assembly’s standing committees have performed poorly over time. As of 2021, a total of 274 subcommittee meetings (1.3 per month) on pending bills were held by the 17 standing committees. However, last year, they only had 122 meetings (0.6 per month), less than half the previous year's. It may be partly because political tension between the main and opposition parties grew so significantly after last year's presidential election that even the standing committees could not meet up.
All of this may well explain why a pile of pending bills is left unaddressed without any review yet by the 17 standing committees. Last year, they had an average of 776.4 pending bills, up by 250 cases from 2021 and more than triple from 2020. Regrettably, the main and opposition parties are always at odds over focal issues in their interests. With little attention paid to bills that have gained bipartisan support, including the Act on the Protection of Temporary Agency Workers and the Act on the Prevention of and Countermeasures against Violence in Schools, they have even put related discussions on the back burner.
Even if members of the National Assembly are in the middle of political strife, they are supposed to do their job first. It is argued that punitive measures should be taken to reduce yearly allowances for standing committee members being derelict in their duty. However, what should be done on the National Assembly’s part is to increase their awareness of the intrinsic responsibilities for deliberating and processing bills and laws. Political reform should start with the basics. Arguably, a desirable starting point for reinventing politics can be more focused on handling bills that serve citizens.