Flaws in the budget review

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Flaws in the budget review

The National Assembly is at it again. The constitutional deadline to pass next year’s budget was Dec. 2. Meanwhile, a budget draft that has been through the review process is turning into a patchwork of additions as it goes through the Assembly’s standing committees. The 12 committees have tacked on an extra 7.6 trillion won ($6.5 billion) to the draft. The Committee on Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs added more than 3 trillion won, and the Health, Welfare and Family Affairs Committee added 1 trillion won for a few pork barrel projects. Ahead of the local elections next year, both the ruling and the opposition parties are busy fattening their pockets. It’s a wonder that the government has managed to keep the total budget under 300 trillion won.

The budget draft had issues even as it was being written. Issues related to people’s livelihood and unemployment were high on the priority list, and some national projects, including the four rivers restoration project, had to be included-all while trying to reduce the deficit. Yoo Jeung-hyun, the minister of strategy and finance, acknowledged that budget planning has never been more difficult. But that same budget draft has been jumbled after its passage through the various committees. With little regard for the financial situation the nation is facing, lawmakers were more concerned about winning votes in their districts, which led them to add the extra money.

The action by the Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Committee was particularly embarrassing. The committee cried foul over the hasty passage of the budget for the four rivers project. But behind closed doors, ruling and opposition party representatives divvied up 3.4 trillion won in regional funds among themselves, including those for roads and railways.

The same opposition lawmakers who once argued that public works projects were throwing the nation into bankruptcy are now busy taking credit for the budget. In an interview with a regional paper, one such representative said he was pleased with “accomplishing the first goal of passing the 38.1 billion won increase in our local budget in the standing committee.”

The National Assembly only has about 20 days to review the budget. Given that other developed nations spend between 120 to 240 days on their budget proposals, our system seems superficial. It would be difficult to expect a thorough review anyway, and this time, the principle of ensuring our financial stability has evaporated. The deadline for passing the budget has been missed seven years in a row, and the committees repeatedly make a joke of the budget draft. We can no longer leave this improper practice at the National Assembly alone.
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