[VIEWPOINT]Fund for aid needs people’s consent

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[VIEWPOINT]Fund for aid needs people’s consent

Love knows no rules. This is what the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said. Many people experience this in their youth, but love can blind you. It can be worse if the love is one-sided and one tries to win over someone beyond one’s capability. The plan for next year’s inter-Korean cooperation fund presented by the Ministry of Unification makes me think that perhaps this is a case of one-sided love.
The ministry said it would need 1,263 billion won ($1.2 billion) for the inter-Korean economic cooperation fund next year, which is a 78.8 percent increase on the amount for this year. It said 650 billion won of that would be contributed by the government and about 450 billion won would be raised publicly by issuing government bonds. Unlike government contributions, funds raised by issuing government bonds have to be redeemed later. That is why the ministry is a subject of criticism for aiding North Korea, even by going into debt.
Of course, it is not the ministry’s fault only. First, there is the problem of timing. The joint statement of the fourth six-party talks that promised to provide 2 million kilowatts of electricity to North Korea was adopted in the middle of September. Also, the 11th meeting of the Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation Promotion Committee that decided to pursue various economic cooperation projects was held at the end of October. The government’s budget plan, however, was finalized at the end of August, so it was practically impossible for the government to provide a financial plan for the projects before they were decided.
If the meetings had been held a little earlier and the government had been able to finance the full amount needed for the inter-Korean projects with government contributions only, it could have avoided the criticism that the government helps the North by going into national debt.
Although there are differences in opinion over the scale and methods of aid to the North, the majority of people sympathize that there is a need to help North Korea, either on humanitarian grounds or for the reason of easing tension and keeping peace on the Korean Peninsula. Furthermore, there is a side to North Korean aid that considers it nothing more than paying the reunification cost up front. In addition, the bill for the inter-Korean cooperation fund for next year cannot be seen as too big, as it is only about 0.5 percent of the overall government budget.
Nevertheless, we still feel that the Ministry of Unification failed to cope with the situation in a more discreet manner. For providing aid to North Korea, the government has to spend people’s tax money. Therefore, the procedure of seeking the consent of the people precedes any decision. However, the people have not been properly informed about “the seven new major projects for inter-Korean economic cooperation” which were presented by the ministry at the beginning of the year, or about various other projects included in the aid package.
The people do not know not only the relationship between these projects, but also when, how and in what size the projects are promoted. Under such circumstances, as the government says it will use public funds on top of government contributions, it may be only natural that people don’t agree with the plan, but rather are angry at it. Especially, there is no blueprint for how the inter-Korean economic cooperation projects will be pursued or what results will be gained from them.
There is no explanation other than a phrase announced by the Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation Promotion Committee that economic cooperation will be pursued “on a more active and broad scale through new ways and methods.”
That is why the people’s doubts grow high and there are suspicions that the Ministry of Unification might have fallen into a one-sided love affair with North Korea.
The fact that North Korea is showing no response to the aid is also tiring the people. More and more people have started to ask whether North Korea has shown any change at all, despite the fact that our aid to North Korea over the past 10 years amounts to around 1.2 trillion won. “Shouldn’t the North show some kind of sincerity after receiving so much from us? At least the North Koreans should give us some land if they have nothing else to give. If they can’t give us land because of the military demarcation line, they could at least give us a bit of the sea. At least we could fish then.”
This is what a friend of mine who runs his own business and was complaining about the bad economy said when he read a newspaper report on North Korean aid. He then added, “I wish the government would worry about its own people first, before thinking of people in the North.”
It is necessary for us to ponder deeply what contributions our aid to North Korea, that deepens conflict among people in the South, can make for a true reconciliation between the North and South.

* The writer is the head of Research Planning and Coordination Office of the Korea Development Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily Staff.

by Jo Dong-ho
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