[EDITORIALS]Budget Money Flows UnmonitoredThe Grand National Party argued recently that more than 600 billion won ($460 million) out of the 156.5 trillion won government budget last year was misappropriated. The budget amount includes both the general and special accounts. The government denied the contention, saying the money may have been used for other purposes than planned, but was not used illegally.
In fact, increasing amounts of funds have been redirected in recent years. According to the 2000 final accounting report by the National Assembly's Special Committee on Budget and Accounts, about three-quarters of one percent of the general account was redirected in 1997. That figure doubled to 1.44 percent in 1998, and was still 1.23 percent in 2000.
The Budget and Accounts Act bans uses of budget money for other than its assigned purpose, but in certain situations allows redirecting part of the budget when certain conditions are met, such as an approval by the minister of budget and planning. But the government has interpreted that latter provision too liberally, raising legal questions about their money-shuffling.
Citing the report by the budget committee, the opposition party pointed out cases of alleged illegal use of the budget, such as new projects funded with money diverted from other projects, or the expansion of projects beyond funding limits voted by the Assembly. For example, the Construction Ministry allocated about 104 billion won for a river conservancy project, but redirected nearly 36 billion won from a different account for that project, raising questions over its legality.
The redirection provision is there to give the government leeway to counter unexpected situations, but the spirit and principle of law that requires the government to obtain approval from the National Assembly for the budget and calls on the Assembly to monitor spending should precede any exception. The government and the National Assembly should use this opportunity to more precisely define the boundaries and standards of budget redirection. The Assembly also needs to use the standing budget committee to investigate the propriety of the administration's use of taxpayers' money.