[Viewpoint] Korea will help, but only a little

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[Viewpoint] Korea will help, but only a little

On May 23, some 60 people gathered at the Seoul Catholic Youth Center. Section chief-level officials from various government agencies and representatives from civil groups attended the discussion session on “The Peer Review of the OECD/DAC (Organization of Economic Cooperation and

Development/Development Assistance Committee) and Improvement Plans for Korea’s ODA (Official Development Assistance).”
Prior to the peer review committee’s visit to Korea, the government officials and civil group representatives shared opinions and evaluated progress.

The peer review committee arrived in Seoul on June 11 for a week-long survey on the ODA’s progress and future plans.

At the discussion, some officials made incomprehensible comments. A team leader from the Prime Minister’s Office said, “The declaration to expand the ODA fund to 0.25 percent of the GDP by year 2015 was made without proper planning, and citizens’ awareness should be improved by promoting and publicizing the policy.”

An official from the Ministry of Strategy and Finance said, “It is said that we are far off from attaining the promised size of ODA, and the ultimate cause is the failure to reflect the portion of added ODA in the long-term budget planning of the government.”

On what the Korean government promised to the international society as Korea joined the OECD/DAC in 2010 and became an assistance donor, the officials said that it was a declaration not based on planning, and the assistance is not reflected in the budget plan. The civil society representatives were dumbstruck.

Hansung University Prof. Lee Tae-ju, the head of the ODA Watch, said that it is very risky for a country that has been a member of the OECD/DAC for a mere year or two to ignore the international norm. He emphasized that the Korean government must keep its promise for the total ODA amount and abide by the rules of the DAC.

Entry into the DAC means more than the fact that Korea is no longer a beneficiary of international assistance for the past 50 years. As a member of the assistant donors, Korea has attained the international status of a developed country.

But if these officials are telling the truth, Korea may be in danger of breaking its promise to the international community as soon as we reached prominent status, just as Professor Lee warned.

In fact, the government is making its share of efforts. In early 2010, the year Korea joined the DAC, the Basic Law on International Development and Cooperation was enacted. In October, 17 government offices and agencies, including the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, jointly prepared the general plan for advancement of international development and cooperation until 2015.

According to the program, the government added 1.1 trillion won ($943 million), or 0.12 percent of GDP, for the ODA budget in 2010, and 1.9 trillion won in 2012, expected to be about 0.15 percent of the GDP.

Also, the development assistance was included in the agenda of the Group of 20 summit, and the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness was successfully hosted in Busan. As a new member of the DAC, Korea has made respectable contributions.

Nevertheless, much concern remains over the promise to provide 0.25 percent of the GDP as ODA by 2015.
At the current rate of economic growth, the total ODA in 2015 is estimated to be 3.6 trillion won.

In order to reach the current average, 0.35 percent, of the OECD/DAC member countries, the ODA should be constantly increased. Many people are skeptical if it is possible to reach a national consensus on such an increase.

However, creating a national consensus and publicizing the cause are separate issues. What is more urgent is keeping the promise Korea has made to the international community.

Only when the Republic of Korea shows its commitment as the 13th-largest economy in the world and faithfully abides by the international norms will the international community recognize Korea as a bona fide developed country. The president, who made the promise, must make sure the plans for advancement of the ODA are implemented and the ODA increase plan is reflected in the long-term government budget program.

by Lee Chang-ho
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