Stop the leak in welfare spending

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Stop the leak in welfare spending

Polarization has not improved even after the two liberal administrations of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. But policies and budgets in support of social security and benefits for the underprivileged ballooned over the last decade.

The Lee Myung-bak government has boosted welfare spending. The central government appropriated 86 trillion won ($81.3 billion) for welfare programs in the budget this year, up nearly 50 percent from 56 trillion won in 2006.

Local governments’ welfare earmarks were also up 73 percent from 15.3 trillion won to 26.5 trillion won. People eligible for various welfare benefits surged to 9.9 million from 3.9 million five years ago.

But the question is whether such funds were well spent. The Board of Audit and Inspection has estimated that 290 billion won in government welfare spending was poorly spent from 2006 to 2009. Budget leaks has always been a problem, but it is most serious in the welfare sector.

The biggest reason is that the government has not been organized in distributing the funds. The government cites lack of manpower. Those eligible for various benefits now near 10 million, but the government is short on resources and expertise in handing out the funds.

The government now says it will add civil servants who specialize in welfare programs to local government. Now numbering 22,461, it would mean an additional 7,000 over the next three years. Of the 7,000, 4,400 will be newly hired as ninth-level officials and 1,800 transferred from other administrative offices. The remaining 800 will be filled by returnees from maternity leave and other vacancies.

Increases in public sector jobs call for discretion as the sector is hard to streamline once it gets big and because it assures job security. But we cannot oppose the government’s plan if it says it cannot do its work with its current manpower.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare has been operating nationwide care centers and emergency call services since 2007 to answer the immediate needs of the poor and needy. But it cannot send people to check on the work because of a lack of staff. As result, one person gets multiple or wrong benefits.

Once work conditions improve, the results obviously should also get better. It is important to stop the leak in tax money by executing the benefits well. Since government officials can no longer complain about their lack of staff, they must make sure the money goes to the people who really need it.
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