Stop pork barrel promises

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Stop pork barrel promises

Candidates on national tour before the presidential primaries are resorting to pork barrel politics in order to tempt voters. Ruling Saenuri Party front-runner Park Geun-hye promised to revive a plan to build a new airport in the south of the country, while her party rivals Kim Moon-soo, Kim Tae-ho and Ahn Sang-soo floated the idea of constructing a new airport on Jeju Island. Of course, they do not give out the practical details related to their promises and especially avoid budget talk.

These candidates are hardly the first. Even though half-baked, grand ideas usually end up creating social fissures and ruining public finance, those seeking office can’t shake the pork barrel habit.

One of the biggest infrastructure campaign flops was the promise to build a large-scale airport in the southern part of the country. It was originally President Lee Myung-bak’s idea when he was a candidate. Despite coming from a construction business, he skipped feasibility studies and budget planning before he delivered the promise to voters. Local governments and industries intensely competed to bring the new airport to their region, and the government only began a feasibility study after regional rivalries forced its hand. It concluded that the new airport would be economically unsuccessful.

Campaign promises on major infrastructure projects can cause serious public finance problems. President Roh Moo-hyun’s ambition to create a new administrative municipality to decentralize the capital and President Lee’s grand plan to build a canal stretching the length of the country were mammoth examples of political pandering that would have gobbled up more than 20 trillion won ($17.7 billion) each.

Both candidates claimed the projects were affordable. Lee promised that the government would be able to recover much of the construction cost by selling rocks, sand and gravel from river beds. Roh said the cost of building a new municipality would be covered by sales of government office buildings. We know how naive they both were.

Today’s presidential candidates have all been witnesses to the messy fallout from irresponsible campaign vows. Yet, they keep up the tradition when it serves their personal ambitions. We simply cannot depend on candidates to make sensible judgements. They must be restrained from making reckless campaign promises with public money.

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