Overseas business trips by National Assembly members from January to July of this year were found to be twice as many as the same period last year.
This is the result of JoongAng Ilbo’s thorough investigation of the National Assembly Secretariat’s ‘Report on the Results of Diplomatic Visits to Members of the National Assembly’ on the 4th. From January to July this year, 215 National Assembly members (including duplicates) went on 52 overseas business trips. The number of business trips from January to July last year was 27. Additionally, the number of business trips last year was 58, and the number of business trips over the seven months from January to July this year was similar.
An official at the National Assembly said, “It is presumed that lawmakers have gone out in advance as it will be difficult to go on overseas business trips from the second half of this year due to preparations for next year’s April 10 general elections.”
Overseas business trips for members of the National Assembly are mostly covered by the budget provided by the National Assembly Secretariat. This is because overseas business trips are also official duties. According to the National Assembly Secretariat, the cost of overseas business trips for National Assembly members from January to July this year amounted to 5.26425 billion won. This means that 24.48 million won was spent per member of parliament.
①More than half the airfare2,855.1 million won, or 54.2% of the total cost, was airfare. A total of 13.28 million won was spent on airfare per lawmaker. The reason airfare costs so much is because you fly first class. According to the travel expenses regulations for public officials, members of the National Assembly are classified as ‘public officials who receive compensation equivalent to that of a State Council member’ and can receive first-class travel expenses along with the President, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Auditor General, State Council member, and Prosecutor General. As a result, the cost of airfare for a business trip for a member of the National Assembly is 5 to 8 times higher than that for the general public.
Even when visiting countries with relatively short travel distances, lawmakers mostly flew first class. For example, in January of this year, 10 lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties visited Tokyo, Japan for 3 days and 2 nights to attend the ‘New Year’s Party of the Central Headquarters of the Korean People’s Association in Japan’ and spent 1.47 million won per person on round-trip business class airfare. There were no first class seats on that route, so the most expensive seat was chosen. A National Assembly official said, “Members of the National Assembly can also fly economy class, but such cases are rare.”
②If possible, go to a far away country.Among overseas business trips from January to July this year, 34 times were to non-Asian countries, including Europe (14 times) and North America and Central and South America (5 times each). It was significantly more than the 18 times in Asian countries. A Democratic Party official said, “When visiting countries with long flight times, lawmakers prefer it because they can avoid long work phone calls and rest on the plane.”
There was also a preference for developed countries. The purpose 안전놀이터is to learn advanced systems, but some say, “It’s because we want more places with more things to see.” In particular, of the 14 business trips to Europe this year, 9 were to major G7 countries, including the UK and Italy, or to Northern European countries.
③Excessive protocolOne of the controversies of independent lawmaker Yoon Mi-hyang is that the Korean Embassy in Japan supported entry procedures and even provided a vehicle between the airport and the accommodation. However, she said that it is common for members of the National Assembly, not just Congressman Yoon, to receive embassy protocol on overseas business trips. When the National Assembly Secretariat relays a member’s business trip plan to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the embassy will pick them up according to the schedule or provide a vehicle.
An official at the National Assembly said, “It is common for the embassy to make reservations for restaurants or tourist attractions for lawmakers,” and added, “There are also cases where embassy vehicles are used to travel for lawmakers’ personal shopping rather than official work.”
Hong Seong-geol, a professor of public administration at Kookmin University, said, “It is difficult to measure the performance of national assembly diplomacy in proportion to the amount of taxpayers’ money spent on it. Although it has the nature of public affairs, the problem is that the exact details of activities cannot be obtained through reports alone, so a system has been established to require lawmakers to spend their own money.” “We need to actively consider improving it or abolishing it in the long term,” he said.