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[Editorial] Negligence of duty

Lawmakers under fire for taking overseas trips while failing to work on pending bills

By Korea Herald

Published : May 9, 2024 - 05:30

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With about three weeks left before the 21st National Assembly closes on May 29, a significant number of lawmakers from both the ruling People Power Party and the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea have gone on overseas trips -- or plan to do so -- while failing to work on piles of pending bills.

Of course, not all lawmakers of the current session are eager to travel abroad to exploit their privilege and spend taxpayer money for their own leisure. And not all trips are meaningless, as “some” are indeed intended for real research for the South Korean people.

But there are enough reasons to doubt those lawmakers going on overseas trips toward the end of their term. Many of their predecessors were publicly slammed for wasteful and shameless overseas trips that turned out to be just sightseeing and pleasure-seeking activities.

Unsurprisingly, the same old pathetic practice has touched off a firestorm of public criticism again. After the April 10 election concluded, more than 50 lawmakers of the 300-member National Assembly either traveled abroad for “research purposes" or had similar plans. The cost for those last-minute overseas trips alone is estimated at 2 billion won ($1.47 million). The lawmakers also earmarked 20.3 billion won for overseas trips this year, marking the largest-ever amount.

As long as those trips are really necessary and informative for hardworking lawmakers, there won’t be critical responses. The issue is that the purposes of many of those trips appear to be far-fetched from what lawmakers are required to do.

A particularly embarrassing case involved three lawmakers and two civil advisers on the special parliamentary committee on national pension reform. They planned to go to Britain and Sweden for a week starting Wednesday but came under a wave of criticism. Their official reason for the hasty trip was to find a compromise for the dispute-laden pension reform efforts while they study related cases abroad.

Critics questioned how they would be able to reach a compromise deal in Europe during a weeklong trip even though they still remain at odds over reform details after holding countless discussions here.

Faced with criticism from the media as well as citizens, the lawmakers on the pension reform committee canceled the trip Tuesday.

But the troubling fact remains that lawmakers, including those in leadership positions, are passionate about overseas trips fully funded by taxpayer money. On Saturday, National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo, for instance, embarked on a 15-day trip to the US, Canada and other countries along with other lawmakers from the rival parties. Rep. Park Byeong-seug, a six-term lawmaker who served as speaker before Kim, has also been on a weeklong trip to Japan and Uzbekistan with six lawmakers since Saturday.

Some of these “study-purpose” overseas trip proposals have been rejected by the National Assembly Secretariat for their unconvincing timeframes and objectives. For instance, four lawmakers applied for trips to France and the Netherlands from May 13 to May 20 to “seek partnership with cities in Europe known for the utilization of eco-friendly bikes,” but the plan was turned down.

The fundamental issue is the public mistrust toward lawmakers who are quick to travel abroad but slow to do their job. According to National Assembly data, incumbent lawmakers have processed 9,455 legislative cases, only 36.6 percent of the 25,830 legislation and revision proposals put forward since May 2020. The percentage of the cases handled by lawmakers has been steadily falling for years from the respectable 69.9 percent achieved during the 16th National Assembly.

With the current National Assembly drawing to a close, lawmakers from all parties should humbly review what they have failed to do as representatives for the people and tighten their schedules to work on as many pending bills as possible, rather than coming up with lame reasons to travel abroad.