The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) agreed Thursday on the government’s record 470.5 trillion won budget bill for next year. While some major bones of contention have not been addressed, including the government’s increased spending on job creation and inter-Korean cooperation projects, the process of passing the budget bill itself also revealed the chronic problems of rival parties to push forward with matters in haste and through closed-door meetings.
It had been almost expected that the parties would miss a legal deadline for the budget passage, which was Dec. 2 this year, as the ruling and opposition parties belatedly started deliberating the budget on Nov. 22, only 12 days to go before the deadline. They originally planned to hold a subcommittee for adjusting the budget of the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts, but it was delayed due to partisan wrangling over the composition of the subcommittee’s members and the replacement of Finance Minister. Starting from last Saturday, members of the Special Committee only from the three major parties held unofficial, undisclosed meetings.
The two major parties, the DP and the LKP, managed to reach an agreement on Thursday, but what they have come up with was only cutting some 5.2 trillion won from the original budget bill. This was another occasion where a nation’s budget, which has a direct influence both on the nation’s coffer and people’s daily lives, was passed as a result of political compromise reached between lawmakers, who did not even consider the budget’s adequacy. Some point out that political heavyweights yet again took care of the SOC budget of their constituencies during the process. The passage of some 200 other laws including long-pending bills related to people’s livelihoods have been also postponed until the last day of the regular session.
In addition, the major parties’ exclusion of the smaller parties, namely the Bareun Mirae Party (BP), the Party for Democracy and Peace, and the Justice Party, deserves criticism. The smaller parties’ call for an electoral reform to be linked to the budget bill passage might not be the most appropriate approach. However, if the two big parties sincerely listened to what the small parties had to say about the introduction of a new proportional representation system, they could have avoided an abnormal result in which the three minor parties that take 49 seats at the National Assembly are completely ignored in the whole process. The nation’s immature parliament has once again demonstrated that it has a long way to go to grow out of hastily-made agreements, boycotts, and sit-in demonstrations. In the end, it is the public who needs to shoulder the burden of the record-high budget.