At Assembly, Park outlines steps to help the economy

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At Assembly, Park outlines steps to help the economy



President Park Geun-hye called on lawmakers to accept a bigger fiscal deficit to breathe life into the moribund economy during her annual parliamentary address yesterday.

“The government has made economic revival its top state affairs management goal for next year, setting aside an additional 20 trillion won [$19 billion] in the budget compared to this year,” she said in her speech at the National Assembly.

“The government is aware that the fiscal deficit and national debt will grow as a result. But when the private sector, including households and companies, has no room for additional spending, if even the government closes its purse strings, our economy can hardly escape the vicious cycle of low growth.”

Park used the “economy” a whopping 59 times during the 37-minute address.

Earlier, the government submitted a 376 trillion won budget for 2015, up 5.7 percent from this year.

The initial part of the presidential speech was devoted to explaining how three pillars for achieving her signature three-year economic innovation plan - normalizing anomalies, building a creative economy and balancing domestic demand and exports - have been reflected in next year’s budget.

She went on to reiterate the importance of improving the nation’s culture of safety following a recent series of man-made disasters, with the sinking of the ferry Sewol on April 16 being the most devastating.

The government boosted next year’s budget for safety spending by 17.9 percent from a year earlier to 14.6 trillion won, the biggest in history, Park said.

While the word safety was spoken 19 times in her speech, Park didn’t specifically cite the Sewol tragedy.

She was deliberately avoiding the perception of any interference in ongoing negotiations at the Assembly over a special bill to investigate the truth behind the accident that left 295 passengers dead and nine missing, said a Blue House official.

Park once again stressed the need to overhaul the deficit-ridden pension system for government employees, which she spoke about during a cabinet meeting a day earlier.

Unless the reforms are accomplished under her administration, succeeding administrations and generations will fall into massive debt, she said. Lauding civil servants’ roles as pillars of the nation, she pleaded for their understanding, sacrifice and concessions, and asked lawmakers to pass the bill on reforms by the end of the year.

Citing the need to expand trade networks overseas to help Korean companies, the president promised to make more proactive efforts to clinch free trade agreements with China, New Zealand and Vietnam.

She also asked for parliamentary ratification of two already signed free trade deals with Australia and Canada.

Park is the first Korean president to give a parliamentary speech two years in a row. She deviated from the tradition of having the prime minister read a speech on the president’s behalf starting in the second year of an administration. Her move is intended as a token of respect for the National Assembly and the people, the Blue House explained earlier.

Lawmakers in attendance offered 29 rounds of applause from the moment of her entry to her exit, but members of the main opposition party, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, maintained stony visages, which they did a year ago as well.

Exiting the room after the speech, the president shook hands with each and every lawmaker lining the central aisle of the Assembly’s main chamber, the majority being members of the ruling Saenuri Party.

Members of the splinter opposition Unified Progressive Party (UPP) didn’t applaud and refused to stand up when Park was leaving. Last year, all five of the UPP representatives wore white masks with Minju (“Democracy”) written on them to protest the Park administration’s asking the Constitutional Court to disband the party for being antistate.

The NPAD said in a briefing that it supports the president’s efforts to communicate with parliamentary members, but said her not mentioning such controversial issues as the Sewol bill and the delay of the transfer of wartime operational control of Korean troops from the United States was disappointing.

Park followed her speech with a nearly one-hour meeting with leaders of the Saenuri Party and NPAD, in which both sides agreed to pass the budget bill for next year by the legally binding deadline of Dec. 2. Korea has rarely seen a budget bill meet its legal deadline in the past because of lawmakers’ wrangling. The bill for this year was passed on the morning of Jan. 1.

The high-profile meeting drew attention from the media for its potential to bring about breakthroughs on thorny issues like amending the Constitution. But Park just listened to NPAD leaders’ views without responding. She has already said she opposed the constitutional reform, claiming it will cause a “black hole in the economy.” Saenuri leader Kim Moo-sung did not say a word about the amendment, according to NPAD sources.


BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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