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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 7)

All News 07:05 April 07, 2020

Irresponsible pledges
They will increase burden on future generations

As the April 15 general election draws near, candidates from the rival political parties are rushing to put forward campaign pledges to woo voters. Unfortunately, however, populist election promises are palpable more than ever in this year's election.

According to an analysis by the Hankook Ilbo, a sister paper of The Korea Times, regional development projects, including the construction of roads and railways, promised by candidates from the country's two biggest parties ― the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) ― in their campaigns would cost 103 trillion won in total. This is about 20 percent of the country's budget (512 trillion won) for this year.

The problem is that many campaign pledges lack any economic feasibility. In most cases, candidates do not present plans on how to finance these projects ― they are just making hollow pledges to attract attention from more voters.

For instance, the UFP has pledged to build a third subway line in Incheon, which would cost up to 1.7 trillion won. However, the project has already been declared economically unfeasible ― the cost-to-benefits ratio was only 0.29 in the Incheon Metropolitan Government's own feasibility study. The cost-to-benefits ratio for a road or railway project in Seoul and the greater capital area should be above 1 to be eligible for state financing. In addition, both the DPK and the UFP have promised to build a highway between Jeonju and Daegu, which could cost up to 4.8 trillion won. However, the Korea Development Institute (KDI) concluded in its 2018 cost-to-benefits analysis that the ratio for a crucial section of the envisioned highway, linking Muju to Daegu, was only 0.23.

The KDI also temporarily concluded that extending the Shinbundang Line from Yongsan to Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, was not economically viable, but this project was promised by both the DPK's Lee Nak-yon and the UFP's Hwang Kyo-ahn, who are contending for a seat in Jongno-gu, Seoul.

It is not hard to imagine why the parties and candidates are presenting unfeasible projects as campaign pledges. But they deserve criticism for making hollow promises only to win without considering the burden on future generations.

This tendency is more visible in constituencies in provincial areas. Last year, the government revised its feasibility study protocols for national projects, making it easier to start public works in provincial areas by relaxing evaluation standards on the economic viability of railway and road construction projects.

For voters, it is important to review the feasibility of election pledges thoroughly instead of being swayed by these sugar-coated promises. They may look sweet but are ultimately poisonous. Certainly, the economically unviable projects, if implemented, will increase the financial burden on present and future generations.

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