[EDITORIALS]How farmers’ aid evaporatedA senior executive of the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation took out loans that he later reneged on, saying he had no means to repay them. A taxi driver, a builder and a restaurateur schemed with an employee of the federation to secure a loan with fabricated documents purporting to show that they farmed and bred livestock. This is how 44 percent of the long-term, low interest farmland development fund to rural communities evaporated.
The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office has disclosed the results of its investigation into National Agricultural Cooperative Federation branches in western South Gyeongsang province. Thirty-six people have been arrested. So it seems there was truth to the rumor that subsidies were awarded on a “first come, first served” basis. The news that money set aside for farmers leaked like water is devastating for hard-working, diligent taxpayers to hear.
Since 1992, the government has poured 102 trillion won ($101 billion) into the agricultural sector, for expenses like greenhouses. But those greenhouses are no longer in use, and more and more rib restaurants and gas stations are sprouting up on rural roads. It was wrong to expect government aid to help restructure the agricultural sector or reduce rural household debt. Now we know why farmers’ groups protest whenever Seoul negotiates a free trade agreement, accusing the government of implementing policy that only increases their debts.
With free trade agreements a necessity, the government has said it will spend another 119 trillion won to help the farm sector. But first, there is something the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation must do. They must investigate how subsidies were used in the past 10 years. The prosecution, police and the Board of Audit and Inspection should launch a nationwide investigation, and lawmakers should start their own. Those implicated in illegal loans should be punished. That is the least we can do for taxpayers and farmers.
These problems raise questions about the nature of the federation. Its mission of caring for the farmers rings hollow. There could be no better time to reconsider the practice of managing the government fund through the federation. Efficient mangement of public funds and on-the-spot confirmation, through competition with commercial banks, is more important than easy accessibility for farmers.