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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Jan. 26)

All News 07:11 January 26, 2016

Simply incapable
Child care fiasco points to lack of leadership

The child care crisis touched off by budget blockades at child care centers and kindergartens shows how public officials, elected and appointed alike, are incapable and irresponsible.

Now the crisis that had been brewing over the past few months is beginning to have a direct impact on the nation's free child care system that covers children aged 3-5, commonly called the "Nuri Program."

Under the most severe threat are children in Seoul and Gyeonggi, Gwangju and South Jeolla provinces, where about 320,000 are attending kindergartens and another 300,000 are attending day care centers.

Due to a lack of funds, some Nuri facilities in the areas failed to pay monthly wages to their staff, including teachers, drivers and cooks. Parents are also preparing to shoulder an additional financial burden brought on by the standoff.

Protesters from the day care centers and kindergartens are braving the freezing weather to hold demonstrations in front of local councils and education offices.

Under mounting public pressure, some - like Gyeonggi Province Gov. Nam Kyung-pil - are devising emergency measures, including diversion of public funds to subsidize the Nuri Program.

The Seoul Education Office also indicated that it would front-load its non-Nuri subsidies to help ease the financial problems of the Nuri facilities, and the local councils in Seoul and Gwangju are also preparing to arrange emergency funds to reach the program in those areas.

As Nam aptly said, what is important now - with the child care system on the brink of a breakdown - is extinguish the fire with water from places that have less need of it.

But all those measures are only makeshift, as long as the central government, local governments and education offices fail to reach a compromise on how to finance the program.

An agreement will require political leadership and legislative action. In this regard, President Park Geun-hye deserves criticism for avoiding the problem until the last minute.

Park had scarcely touched on the child care crisis, betraying the role of the chief executive. It was only Monday that she took action, instructing officials to provide 300 billion won ($250 million) in central government funds to subsidize the Nuri Program. It's better late than never, but Park cannot avoid criticism for failing to grapple with the crisis earlier.

The Nuri Program was expanded in accordance with Park's election promise, and this is one of the many reasons Park should take the lead in defusing the crisis - with the same passion as that she demonstrated in rebuking the parliament.

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