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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 28)

All News 06:52 April 28, 2020

Work fast on relief money
Bipartisanship essential to coping with coronavirus

The ruling and opposition parties have agreed to provide "emergency disaster relief money" to all Koreans to help them overcome difficulties arising from the coronavirus pandemic. Now it is time for the parties to speed up the provision if they really want to achieve the intended effect of the financial aid.

On Sunday, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) reached an agreement with the main opposition Untied Future Party (UFP) on a formula for the relief provision. This agreement is meaningful as the two sides managed to narrow their differences over the aid. It could open the way for bipartisanship between the rival parties, the first of its kind since the April 15 general election, which the DPK won in a landslide.

It is also good news that both parties agreed Monday to hold a National Assembly plenary session to vote on the extra budget bill for the relief money by Wednesday, the deadline set by the DPK. The agreement came after they resolved thorny issues concerning how to finance the program which will require 14.3 trillion won ($11.6 billion). The money will be given to every citizen, but the amount will depend on the members of each household. For example, one million won will be given to a household with four or more members.

There was a heated debate over whether to offer the money to all Koreans. Initially, the Moon Jae-in administration and the governing party had decided to provide the money to households in the bottom 70 percent income group in late March. But the DPK changed its position and called for the provision to all citizens during its election campaign after then UFP leader Hwang Kyo-ahn promised to give 500,000 won to each Korean.

With the change, both parties invited criticism for resorting to populism to garner more votes. The DPK cannot retract its populist campaign pledge after winning the election. Neither can the UFP even though they suffered a defeat at the polls.

But the DPK had difficulty persuading the government into accepting the "relief for all" formula. The Ministry of Economy and Finance, which strongly opposed the idea citing budgetary constraints, had no other choice but to accommodate the party's demand under mounting political pressure.

The UFP also came up with a condition that the central government should share the burden for the relief money with provincial and municipal authorities. It has finally dropped this condition. But it is now demanding the government minimize the issuance of state bonds to avoid exacerbating the national debt and a huge budget deficit.

Such a tug-of-war not only between the ruling party and the government, but also between the rival parties seemed to be inevitable. But policymakers and politicians should make decisions on important issues such as the relief provision transparently based on a national consensus. They should not put politics before the interests of the people and the country.

Now the DPK and the UFP should work together to speed up the legislative process to allow citizens to get the relief money by mid-May. They must also make efforts to ensure the aid will help stabilize people's livelihoods and boost consumption in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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