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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 5)

All News 07:09 March 05, 2020

Extra budget bill
Spending should focus on fighting epidemic

The Moon Jae-in administration has come up with an extra budget bill worth 11.7 trillion won ($9.8 billion) to fight the new coronavirus more effectively and minimize economic damage from the epidemic. This spending plan is more than necessary to better cope with the worsening public health emergency.

On Wednesday, the government approved the bill during a Cabinet meeting and plans to present it to the National Assembly on Thursday. The Assembly should take swift action to pass the bill. Any delay could derail efforts by the state and local authorities to contain COVID-19. The longer the virus persists, the harder people's lives and the economy will be hit.

Of course, we do not expect any serious partisan dispute to take place at the Assembly over the much-needed extra budget. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and opposition parties, including the United Future Party (UFP), have already agreed on the bill. The rival parties must show bipartisanship to help the nation and the people overcome the virus-driven crisis.

The supplementary budget is the largest-ever for the fight of an epidemic in Korea. The government drew up an extra budget of 4.2 trillion won to fight severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and another worth 11.6 trillion won to contain Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015. This demonstrates how serious the COVID-19 outbreak is.

First of all, the budget, if approved, should be executed in good faith to help the country win the battle with the relentless coronavirus. The Moon administration plans to spend 2.3 trillion won on beefing up the quarantine and healthcare system, including the provision of more medical equipment, hospital beds and facilities for the treatment of the spiking number of patients.

It is necessary for lawmakers of the rival parties to take a close look at the money allocated to the treatment and containment of the disease during the deliberation of the bill. They could raise the sum if necessary. In fact, the shortage of hospital beds and medical equipment is far acuter than had been previously thought. This problem will not be confined to the southeastern city of Daegu, a hotspot of the virus in Korea, if the epidemic spreads further across the country.

About 6.2 trillion won, more than half of the planned budget, will be used to minimize the economic fallout from the virus outbreak. The money will be spent supporting small and medium businesses and the self-employed, helping regional economies recover from damage, stabilizing people's lives, and maintaining job security for low-income earners. In a nutshell, the outlays will be injected to boost consumption and maintain the momentum for economic growth.

Most of the extra budget will be financed by issuing state bonds. This could raise concerns about the growing national debt and fiscal soundness. Thus, the Moon government needs to work out measures to achieve a balanced budget on a long-term basis.
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