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(3rd LD) Bumpy road lies ahead for parliamentary approval of extra budget

Politics 17:14 April 18, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in paras 10-15)

SEOUL, April 18 (Yonhap) -- The country's main opposition party on Thursday threatened to significantly cut the size of an extra budget currently under review, heralding a bumpy road for the proposal, to be made next week, to get parliamentary approval.

The government is planning to introduce a supplementary budget worth less than 7 trillion won (US$6.1 billion) next Thursday to cope with fine dust and boost the slowing economy amid growing downside risks over worsening economic conditions at home and abroad.

South Korea's export-reliant economy is showing signs of weaker growth, hit by sluggish private consumption and global trade disputes.

The government has projected the nation's economy to grow between 2.6 percent and 2.7 percent this year. Earlier in the day, the Bank of Korea slashed its growth outlook this year to 2.5 percent from its previous forecast of 2.6 percent, citing heightening economic uncertainties over trade tensions and weakening exports.

"We will make our utmost efforts to ensure that the bill can pass the National Assembly," Rep. Cho Jeong-sik, chief policymaker of the ruling party, said in a meeting with Hong Nam-ki, the minister of economy and finance, at the parliament.

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the government are eager to ram through the supplementary budget bill next month, but the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) says it is a politically motivated for next year's general elections.

LKP floor leader Na Kyung-won said her party cannot accept the planned extra budget, claiming the budget is designed to create jobs ahead of next April's parliamentary elections.

At least 151 out of 300 lawmakers need to be present at the parliament to put a bill to a vote. Of them, a majority of votes, at least 76, is needed to endorse the measure, according to National Assembly procedure.

The DP has 128 seats in the 300-member parliament, with the LKP holding 114 and minor opposition parties and independents accounting for the other 58.

The LKP has opposed a proposal to use an extra budget to tackle the fallout of disasters including a recent blaze in eastern regions and fine dust, raising suspicions that the government may have political purposes to boost the budget size.

"If it is urgent to spend money on damage recovery, please draw up a separate extra budget proposal on disasters," Na told minister Hong at a meeting at the National Assembly.

Hong rebutted that the planned supplementary budget is aimed at boosting the economy, not winning over voters ahead of the elections.

"Along with the urgency to tackle find dust, it is very important to preemptively respond to downside economic risks," Hong said.

"The Korean economy is in a grave situation as global economic growth has been slowing down since early this year."

The government plans to use an extra budget to boost safety measures following a devastating wildfire that raged through east coastal regions earlier this month.

Hong said the government is pushing to increase the number of old diesel cars and construction equipment units that are equipped with diesel particulate filters, devices that remove diesel particulate material, or soot, from diesel engine exhaust gas.

The extra budget is also designed to boost the number of old diesel cars to be scrapped from its initial target of 150,000. South Korea has said it plans to take all diesel cars -- a key culprit of fine dust emissions -- off the road by 2030.

"We will expedite emission cuts of fine dust ... and expand the spread of eco-friendly cars," Hong said during a visit to a company near Seoul that has developed technology to reduce the amount of exhaust gas emitted by cars and construction equipment.

Fine dust has blanketed South Korea in recent months, prompting calls for action to reduce the amount of particles smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter. Fine dust can cause various respiratory diseases and undermine the body's immune system. Ultrafine dust particles are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

Last year, South Korea's parliament approved an extra budget bill worth 3.83 trillion won to create jobs for young people and help industrial regions grappling with massive layoffs.

Government and ruling party officials hold consultations to discuss an extra budget at the National Assembly on April 18, 2019. (Yonhap)


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