Move to raise funds for unification shot down
The ministry proposed a bill to revise the current inter-Korean cooperation funds law in order to allot a certain amount of the state’s reserved budget annually to raise special funds for reunification.
However, at a meeting held by the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee, all opposition lawmakers exercised their right of veto on discussing the matter, leading the committee to halt talks on the issue.
A group of ruling lawmakers stressed the importance of the funds. Yoo Ki-june, a lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party, said “There’s already a public consensus on the need for preparing for unification by raising funds.”
But opposition Democratic United Party lawmaker Kim Dong-cheol protested, saying “It’s not the right time to talk about unification funds.”
Park Joo-sun, a DUP lawmaker, added, “if we allow the ministry to raise the funds, it will mean we forgive the Lee Myung-bak administration, which froze inter-Korean relations.”
Lawmakers have clashed with each other over raising money for unification, which many historians and analysts say would cost billions of dollars.
While ruling party lawmakers say that the nation should prepare for reunification, opposition lawmakers respond by saying raising funds could be seen as an attempt to absorb North Korea, provoking the reclusive regime in the midst of a sensitive transition period.
Some also raise questions on the transparency of managing the funds.
Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik announced in November 2011 that he would launch a so-called “unification jar,” in which a certain amount of the state’s reserved budget would be saved annually to raise a total of 55 trillion won ($49 billion) over the next two decades.
To do this, Yu said that the current inter-Korean cooperation funds law should be revised.
President Lee Myung-bak proposed levying a unification tax in 2010, but it fizzled out due to the opposition of lawmakers.
Instead, the government launched the inter-Korean cooperation funds law, which allots 1 trillion won of the state budget for boosting relations with North Korea.
But, due to the stalled relations with the North in the wake of the warship Cheonan’s sinking and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, the funds remain almost unspent.
Unification Ministry officials expressed their disappointment toward the scrapped bill.
“Preparing for the aftermath of unification is a different issue from stalled inter-Korean relations,” a ministry official told the JoongAng Ilbo.
“We feel sorry for connecting the issue with judging the current administration’s policies against the North,” the official added.
By Kim Su-jeong, Kim Hee-jin [firstname.lastname@example.org]