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(EDITORIAL from Korea Joongang Daily on April 30)

All News 09:05 April 30, 2020

The donation bandwagon

The Moon Jae-in administration said it would offer emergency relief grants to the relatively poor and socially weak from the beginning to help them get through the coronavirus crisis. But that position has evolved into cash payouts to all families after political parties fiercely competed to curry favor with voters. Now that the ruling Democratic Party (DP) won a landslide victory in the April 15 parliamentary elections, the party is fueling class conflict by giving money to everyone and asking the rich to return their payments.

Looking back, it was appropriate for the government to think of giving emergency grants to the 50 percent of households with the lowest incomes, as originally planned by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance last month. Faced with opposition from within the DP, Hong Nam-ki, deputy prime minister and the economy and finance minister, took a step back and proposed payments to the 70 percent of households with the lowest incomes. Ultimately, even that suggestion was not accepted by the Blue House and DP.

On Wednesday, the National Assembly finally agreed to 1 million won ($821) in handouts to all families of four, as promised by DP floor leader Lee In-young before the general elections two weeks ago. But confusion has intensified after the government urged wealthy families to give up their handouts.

President Moon will likely be the first to return the money he is entitled to receive. The ruling party is floating the idea of "collecting trillions of won if large companies and high-income earners join the movement." A novel idea of donating additional money on top of the grants is also being discussed. Finance Minister Hong said he would not take his grant. But contributions by high government officials have become a fait accompli.

If that happens, the government cannot avoid public criticism about the credibility of government policies. The corporate sector is expressing concerns about the government's demand for "additional contributions." Isn't that compelling the rich to donate their personal wealth with a threat?

There is loose talk about donating gold as Koreans did during the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98. At the time, ordinary citizens donated gold rings in the face of a national bankruptcy. That's totally different from what the Moon administration is trying to do. If the government chooses that path, it will cause serious national division.

The rich have been paying income taxes, not to mention bearing a huge burden in terms of the national health insurance. If the government pressures the wealthy to contribute more against their will, that's not a democratic government. We hope the DP faithfully carries out its duty as a ruling party in a fair democracy.

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