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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 4)

All News 07:13 November 04, 2020

Thorough budget review
Lawmakers should prevent waste of taxpayers' money

The National Assembly began deliberating the government's proposed budget for 2021, Monday. Lawmakers of the ruling and opposition parties should undertake a rigorous review of the mega-budget to prevent any waste of taxpayers' money.

The review process is drawing attention as the Moon Jae-in administration drafted a "super" budget for 2021, amounting to 555.8 trillion won ($490 billion). The record sum represents an 8.5 percent increase from this year. It was inevitable for the government to come up with its largest-ever budget to revitalize the COVID-19 hit economy and improve the people's livelihoods.

Yet, the Assembly needs to look into the proposal closely to check if there are any redundancies or inflated outlays. A thorough scrutiny is also required to reduce the huge budget deficit and maintain fiscal health.

What lawmakers should do is to check if the government has properly allocated spending on diverse projects to produce intended results without squandering tax revenue. They must try hard to see if the government has earmarked money for pork-barrel projects ahead of mayoral by-elections set for next April and the 2022 presidential election.

The governing Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) is at odds with the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) over how to deal with the budget. The DPK has threatened to railroad the bill unless the PPP reaches an agreement on the issue by the end of the month. But the PPP has vowed to curtail spending on pork-barrel projects drastically.

Also at stake is the Moon administration's ambitious Korean New Deal projects which call for 21.3 trillion won next year alone to boost the pandemic-battered economy and create jobs. The PPP points out that 70 percent of the projects are overlapping with other budgetary spending. However, the DPK is adamant on passing the budget without any change, arguing that the sum is necessary to minimize COVID-19's devastating impact and turn around the economy.

If the two parties fails to narrow their differences, they may miss the Dec. 2 legal deadline for the passage of the spending plan. We hope they will overcome partisanship and compromise to meet the deadline. The DPK should not try to railroad the budget by using its supermajority without taking a close look at it. If it does, it cannot deflect criticism for serving as a rubber stamp. No matter how serious the public health crisis is, lawmakers cannot and should not abandon their role of maintaining democratic checks and balances.

What really matters is that the mega-budget, if passed, will ramp up the national debt to 945 trillion won next year, 17 percent up from this year. This will force the government to issue state bonds worth 89 trillion won to cover its deficit, up 48.8 percent from this year. The ratio of national debt to the country's GDP is expected to rise to 46.7 percent in 2021 from 43.5 percent in 2020 and 37.1 percent in 2019. This could harm fiscal health too rapidly. That's why the Assembly should review the proposed budget more thoroughly.

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