Farewell basic pensionPresident Park Geun-hye has expressed “regret” at a cabinet meeting for scaling down the basic pension program for the elderly, a core campaign pledge in last year’s presidential race. That’s understood to be her first response to the administration’s reduction of the original 200,000 won ($186) a month for all senior citizens 65 years old and above to a graded allowance for those in the lower 70 percent income bracket.
However, despite the Blue House and ruling Saenuri Party’s claim that almost all - 90 percent - of senior citizens in economic hardship will get the full amount of the monthly allowance, Park broke one of her signature campaign promises. Though the president said she would do her best to keep the promise, it looks like the job was just too tough given the government’s deteriorating fiscal situation.
The president should have explained how the administration reached its decision and sincerely apologized to the people together with a presentation of her future action plans and alternatives. A president’s public apology doesn’t necessarily translate into a loss of presidential authority or esteem. But as leader of the nation, Park should have sought an understanding from the people, not merely her cabinet members.
The Welfare Ministry’s idea of excluding the top 30 percent income bracket from receiving the monthly pension could get public support - depending on how it is explained by the president - as the people are well aware of a potential threat to the fiscal health of the government presented by such hefty pledges. Many people remain suspicious that a universal basic monthly allowance - regardless of income - was a good idea in the first place.
Expanded welfare calls for a thorough examination of the government’s ability to pay for it. Park should first offer a frank apology for wrongly estimating how expensive her promise would be. That’s the kind of leadership of principle and conviction she has enthusiastically championed.
On the other hand, 200,000 won can be a glimmer of hope for a senior citizen in poverty. To maximize its effect, the government must establish an efficient evaluation system so the allowances can reach those in need. In the meantime, the Democratic Party has denounced the government’s “broken promise.” But the DP really should start coming up with realistic alternatives - not just blind opposition to government promises or actions - if it really wants to take power again in the future.