Extraordinarily corrupt

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Extraordinarily corrupt

There is a perpetual self-serving practice in Korean politics. If a local government requests an “extraordinary” budget, the grant universally serves as a piggy bank for the people in power.

Last year extraordinary grants to local governments totaled 924.3 billion won ($825.4 million), up more than 200 billion won from four years ago.

The biggest beneficiary was Gimhae, South Gyeongsang, birthplace of former President Roh Moo-hyun, followed by Yangsan, the constituency of former Grand National Party Chairman Park Hee-tae, and Naju, represented by the Democratic Party’s Choi In-ki, who was minister for public administration under Roh.

Pyeongchang, the constituency of former lawmaker Lee Gwang-jae, a close aide of President Roh’s, had received about 12.9 billion won annually between 2005 and 2007, but it has since seen its allowance slashed to 1.57 billion won. Simply put, the level of grant appropriation depends on who is in power.

Many have called for these reckless extraordinary grants to local governments, which lack transparency and appropriate guidelines, to be abolished or scaled back. The National Assembly sets the amount, and government ministries arbitrarily dole it out. As a result, the money ends up in the pockets of whoever gets their hands on it first.

Byeon Yang-kyoon, former chief secretary of national policy to President Roh, appropriated some of this easy money to pay off a temple head to help his mistress. In 2008, senior officials at the Education Ministry came under fire for squandering extraordinary subsidies on their alma maters or their children’s schools.

Amid the criticism, the National Assembly revised the regulations to require the government to report account details for the allocation and expenditure of extraordinary budgets. Yet bureaucrats and lawmakers continue to finagle extraordinary budget grants from the unwitting taxpayers. Last year, 1 trillion won allocated for the purpose was mostly channeled into the hometowns or constituencies of heavyweights in the current administration.

We can no longer tolerate this prodigality with tax money by bureaucrats and politicians. The government must resist the temptation to use the extraordinary budget to coax and pressure local governments. Our fiscal account can no longer afford to finance the people in power as part of an extended patronage system.

The misappropriation of special grants must end, and the ballooning budget for them should also be slashed aggressively. We may finally have to consider doing away with extraordinary grants altogether and moving the subsidies for local governments into the general account.
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