[EDITORIALS]Budget Problems Need Attention

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[EDITORIALS]Budget Problems Need Attention

It is as important as ever to keep a close watch on how the government plans to spend taxpayers' money next year. The economic situation warrants some critical fiscal decisions in the coming months, and a series of elections next year makes it important to shape the budget proposal adequately and at the same time cautiously. A certain degree of consensus exists that fiscal spending should play a role in economic recovery. But the national finances are not in good shape, burdened with a sharp increase in indebtedness as a result of economic restructuring in recent years. The National Assembly recently asked experts on fiscal policy to look into the government's budget proposal. The move is unprecedented and positive, and the experts' report contains questions that we would be well advised to consider.

The report points out that more than 60 percent of the proposed spending is rigid, representing fixed costs that are often low in productivity. The planned increase in personnel expenses is nearly 10 percent following this year's 16.5 percent, a sign that the government is still slow in reforming its own structure. The increase in infrastructure investments is to remain at 6 percent, far below the overall budget increase of 12 percent, despite the potential for multiplying economic effects. Lagging capital investment by the government has been evident this year, as planned projects continue to be delayed.

The report highlights critical problems, including a plan, as promised by President Kim Dae-jung in his election campaign, to spend 17.3 billion won ($14 million) for a new airport in Gimje, North Jeolla province, when there is an airport in Gunsan not 50 kilometers away. A plan to invest 150 billion won in venture capital funds is considered too risky for Seoul to make.

Vote-catching spending must be curbed, along with unproductive, overlapping and wasteful expenditures. The government must cease to be a passive administrator of public spending and become involved in reviewing spending proposals. We wonder if the National Assembly will ensure that, in light of its inattention to the supplemental budget in September and the squabble, while the budget sits on its lap, over whether it can or cannot summon the prosecutor general.

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