Government Must Be Accountable

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Government Must Be Accountable

The Task of Parliamentary Inspection Is To Expose Waste and Inefficiency

"In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one class of the citizens to give to the other class," wrote Voltaire, the 18th century French philosopher and writer.

Replace "taking" with "collecting" and the observation by Voltaire rings true today.

Two conditions must be met before citizens will consent to the government taking money from them: don''t take too much, and use it properly. These preconditions also apply to the public funds controversy in Korea.

After the national economy came perilously close to bankruptcy in 1997, the government came up with a proposal for raising public funds. Acting in the nation''s interest, the public agreed to empty their pockets - as if having given up their gold rings to help the government raise foreign currency had not been enough.

Without asking how much was needed or how it would be used, the public rose to the occasion, with their sole purpose being to help avert a national economic calamity. It was therefore incumbent upon the government to spend the money as wisely and frugally as possible.

The government said it would revive the economy, even if only it had 64 trillion won. Then the Daewoo Group went bankrupt, prompting the government to ask for an additional 46 trillion won, raising the total to 110 trillion ($100 billion).

Each household in the nation is now facing a potential debt of 10 million won. Korea''s GNP reached 484 trillion won last year. This means the government poured one forth of the money the people toiled to earn last year into public funds.

The people contributed that money without complaint. Now the government has the audacity to demand another 40 trillion won, and maybe more. Only a shameless government could come up with such a outrageous demand.

After having gobbled up 110 trillion won, the government now seeks another 40 trillion won, despite the fact that the public funds proved ineffective. It seems the government''s appetite for public funds will never be sated.

The government vowed to restore the health of the economy by using a scalpel to cut out waste and inefficiency. It has failed to make even the first incision.

It has placed troubled corporation on resuscitators - in the form of special privileges under its debt restructuring program - to companies that should have been allowed to die a natural death. This occurred during the first round of restructuring two years ago. When this failed, the government placed the firms under court receivership, the core of this year''s second round of restructuring.

Corporate restructuring is difficult even under ideal conditions if it is executed in the right manner with proper expertise. It is difficult, if not impossible, to expect that the government would succeed in restoring the health of the national economy while their credibility with the people is at a all-time low, and they lack expertise in corporate restructuring.

If this course continues, it is likely that the remaining reforms in the financial, labor and public sectors will end with only superficial results. The government must be held accountable first for its questionable use of public funds before it attempts to address the financial woes of corporate Korea.

The ruling and opposition parties agreed to a parliamentary inspection of the use of public funds. While belated, this agreement is greatly welcomed.

It would have made more sense if the parliamentary inspection had come before its approval for raising additional public funds.

The government''s appeal to hand over the money first, citing the emergency, has now been shown to have been little more than a ruse.

Lawmakers owe it to the people who gave so freely in a time of national crisis to establish a public fund management committee and enact a special public fund law as quickly as possible - refraining from partisan bickering at all costs.

A ruling party member said the government might have mismanaged the funds, but being ineffective is not a crime. It is not right that the ruling party try to justify the misdeeds of the present administration even before a parliamentary inspection committee is established.

Columnist James Reston astutely observed that a government is the only known vessel that leaks from the top. Since the United States is not a country where a janitor at the presidential residence pockets 400 million won, Mr. Reston''s swipe at the top refers to the government''s wasteful habits of letting bundles of tax money leak away.

If we punish government officials for policy failure, no one would be able to administer the state. But if we always let the failure past without censure, there would be no system to check state management, and the vessel would sink with all hands.

Banks, barely subsisting on the injection of public funds, threw money around in the form of huge retirement pay-offs. Companies staving off the specter of bankruptcy through bank handouts made large political donations.

Is the 150 trillion won collected from the people so inconsequential that only the corruption committed at the bottom is punished, while the top is let off the hook?

Every leak has to be plugged, be it at the top or the bottom. This is the task of the parliamentary

The writer is an editorial writer of the Joongang Ilbo.

by Joseph W. Chung

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