Is It Party Time or Election Time?

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Is It Party Time or Election Time?

The management and entertainment budgets for heads of some local governments this year rose drastically from last year. Although the central government specifically gave instructions, in view of the current economic downturn, to reduce recurring expenditures by 10 percent and to freeze management and entertainment expenditures, local governments reportedly rushed to raise their entertainment budgets. It is a disappointment to the people, and contrasts sharply with the recent transfer by some local bodies of savings from their management and entertainment budgets last year for use in public projects.

In Kyonggi province, the governor's management and entertainment budget jumped by 12 percent to 778 million won ($630,000) - including 180 million won in organization management fees and 590 million won in policy implementation fees - from 691 million won last year.

According to a report submitted by the Seoul city government to the Government Administration and Local Autonomy Committee at the National Assembly, of the 25 local administrative offices in Seoul, 17 offices have augmented their entertainment budgets. Yongsan-gu especially increased by 30 percent to 1.1 billion won and Geumcheon-gu increased by 18.6 percent to 1.2 billion won. Except for Seocho and Jungnang, whose budgets were around 900 million won, the other 23 gu offices set their budgets at more than 1 billion won with Gangnam's being equal to the ceiling (1.444 billion won).

Officials at the responsible local governments have contended that they simply fixed the budgets to the original levels before the financial crisis compelled their reduction, and were not influenced by the upcoming local elections. They also argue that included in each provincial governor's management and entertainment budget are those of the vice-governor and other executives. However, the budget being mostly spent on social gatherings, presents at parties and events, it is easy to suspect that the money is being spent to buy people's hearts before the elections.

Heads of local governments should voluntarily cut their entertainment budgets now to avoid being suspected of having raised them for campaigning purposes. They should also disclose in detail the spending. Isn't there even a section on the Internet home page where governors and vice-governors can reveal on a daily basis their spending beginning this year? Furthermore, heads of districts should also take this opportunity to reassess the appropriateness of their budgets.
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