Don’t give into temptationPresident Lee Myung-bak was in an overly charitable mood during his recent visit to Busan. His impromptu development promises were irresponsible and unprofessional. In a meeting with local leaders, he said, “If dams are necessary, they should be built. The land minister is here and he would agree. If international air routes are too short, they should be expanded.”
The Busan-Ulsan railway needs twin tracks, and it should have them as soon as possible, he said, looking to the ministers in attendance for gestures of consent. He pointed to Minister of Strategy and Finance Bahk Jae-wan and called upon him to agree to provide funds for the project. Bahk, as well as Minister of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Kwon Do-yup, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Choi Kwang-shik, and Small & Medium Business Administration Commissioner Kim Dong-sun all accompanied the president to Busan.
Infrastructure projects to build dams, government buildings and railways all need to be examined and approved by the government and legislature in terms of their necessity and suitability of their budgets. It is inappropriate for a president to throw around such half-baked ideas in the presence of the cabinet ministers responsible for thoroughly evaluating them.
The fiscal budget is not a private fund for the president to spend at will. Lee has already come under fire for making extravagant campaign promises to regional electors — and then reversing them during his governance. Presidential pledges regarding Sejong City, a new airport in the southern part of the nation and an international science belt have all stirred controversy because they did not turn out as expected based on previous campaign pledges.
The ruling party and government are worried about waning support from the traditional conservative bases of Busan and South Gyeongsang.
As the Oct. 26 by-election is fast approaching, and general and presidential elections are slated for next year, the president may have been tempted to impress voters in the region to give the ruling party a boost. But he has crossed a dangerous line, as Busan is not the only area in the country that needs development.
Lee has been calling for fairness and transparency and showing preferences to certain regions undermines his position. He also runs the risk of being accused of meddling in the run-up to elections. He should avoid giving in to the temptation of winning voters by flaunting his budgeting and administrative powers.