Seoul, Dec 3: After a debate stretching back more than 40 years, South Korea's parliament has approved a bill that will finally compel the country's influential clergy to pay taxes.
The bill was passed shortly before midnight yesterday by 195 votes to 20, with 50 legislators abstaining. It has been a long road to legislation, with previous efforts to bring monks, priests and pastors into the national tax fold being repeatedly foiled by vehement clerical opposition and political timidity.
In a reflection of the issue's sensitivity, the new bill has a lengthy built-in time delay, only coming into effect from the start of 2018. Kang Seog-Hoon, a legislator with the ruling Saenuri Party, said the grace period would be used to communicate with religious groups "so that the policy can settle down without turbulence".
South Korea has an estimated 360,000 priests whose earnings will be re-classified as "religious income" rather than the current label of "honorarium".
A sliding bracket means those earning 40 million won (34,500 dollars) or less a year will only be taxed on 20 percent of their income.
At the upper end, those earning more than 150 million won will have to pay tax on 80 percent of their income. Public opinion polls have long favoured extending tax responsibilities to religious groups, some of whom are highly secretive about their financial arrangements.