Special grants abused

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Special grants abused

The audit results for the Education Ministry’s special grants program reveal the stark reality that many had feared. The Board of Audit and Inspection found Korean government ministers and vice ministers have been pouring money into their alma maters or the schools of their children. They also spent massive amounts of money on projects that had no sound grounds for funding.

The Audit Board also found numerous cases in which the Education Ministry gave special grants without going through the legitimate review process. The special grant the Education Ministry provided to regional entities for “special education demands” totaled 944.6 billion won last year. Of this, 87 percent was allocated to absurd causes, violating related regulations.

Have Education Ministry officials mistaken the government’s money for their personal pocket money? It is surprising to find out that the system the government uses to manage its money is so loose.

Of course, the issue surrounding the special grants program is not something new. However, as for the questionable practices that have now been disclosed, they should be mended. The Audit Board has demanded that the ministry punish the civil servants involved.

But that will end up being a temporary remedy. It will hardly protect the education minister and vice minister from criticism that the special grants program was devised to demonstrate their benevolence. The system itself should be reformed.

Measures that could prevent government officials from administering policies on their own should be put in place. Laws should define the standards, process and target of special grants. Every detail in the procedure should be transparent.

Either hugely shrinking the special grants program or scrapping it entirely would be appropriate. The special grants funding could be reclassified into the general budget so it can be administered in the form of ordinary grants or a national treasury subsidy for improved transparency.

That will reduce corruption among government officials or interference from the political community. The evil practices of the special grants program that the Ministry of Public Administration and Security gives to local autonomous bodies are not very different from those of the Education Ministry.

If the government fears the Korean people, the owners of the national tax, mending the special grants system should no longer be postponed.
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