FAFFing About in Parliament

Golf, Karaoke and Illegal Race-calls all feature in Racing’s Day at the Auditors

Monday saw top KRA officials make the journey to the National Assembly building in Yeouido, Seoul where, as part of the Ministry of Farming, Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (FAFF), it was their turn to appear in front of lawmakers as part of the annual National Assembly audit.

During the three week audit, all government departments come under scrutiny with 500 administrative sections covering everything from the Army to the Tourist Board having to appear to answer questions. It’s an event widely criticised in Korea as being little to do with serious audit and more to do with political showboating.

Indeed it often turns out that way. In the past, politicians have arrived for the Defence Department audit wearing army fatigues and staged a target practice exhibition before the questions, while others decided to cut off the power while the Korean Electrical Power Corporation (KEPCO) was being grilled so that executives could see what it was like to work by candlelight.

The Korea Times commented last year that generally all officials need to do is either “beg, bribe or entertain the parliamentarians” to get through another year. The same paper did grant, however, that if nothing else, the audit period was good for “slapstick funnies” on the National Assembly TV channel.

Chairman and CEO Kim Kwang Won headed the KRA delegation. Sadly, Kim did not show up wearing racing silks and carrying a whip. Here’s a brief summary of some of the issues that were raised by lawmakers:

* Like any audit, the main purpose was to check what the KRA was doing with its money. Especially what it shouldn’t be doing. The KRA overtime payments to staff were criticised – around 4 Billion won ($3.6Million) was allegedly paid during the audit period. This was also noted in the last audit.

* Rep. Kang Seok Ho of the ruling (and perhaps appropriately named) Grand National Party, raised the issue of “improper Golf Club memberships” purchased by the KRA to the value of KRW 1 Billion as well as KRW 100 Million put on corporate credit cards at various Karaoke bars and “Saunas”. Rep. Kang condemned the expenditure as “violating every civilized subject of public sentiment” given the ongoing recession.

* Rep. Kang Ki-Kap of the Democratic Party is generally good value at any National Assembly event. Opting to neither fight, nor smash anything up today, he instead chose to focus on illegal gambling. Given that racing on TV has now been outlawed, Kang wanted to know what the KRA was doing to counter the supposed problem of illegal live commentaries of races from the track to private gaming houses.

* The appointment of a former close advisor to President Lee Myoung Bak during his election campaign to what some see as a grace and favour position within the racing authority, came under attack

* Regulatory issues were also covered. Breakfast TV news reports had speculated that the KRA would be strongly criticised over its progress in meeting guidleines laid down by the National Gaming Control Commission (NGCC). The matter was raised with criticism for the way the KRA has pushed ahead with its promotion of Off Track Betting locations (or KRA Plazas) with the NGCC requiring that by 2013, 50% of all money wagered is done so at the track – currently it stands at 30%.

How much fall-out there is from the audit session will become clearer later in the week but overall, there was little new on the regulatory front – and sadly even less on the comedy front.

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