Sorry, newlywedsThe opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy’s hefty welfare proposal is provoking controversy. The party wants to build rental apartments exclusively for newlyweds to help ease their challenge of paying for skyrocketing jeonse, or lump-sum rental. Despite the NPAD’s vow to charge the newlyweds some of the costs, the plan is nothing less than a free housing program for newly married couples. Conservatives attack the idea for its amazing similarity to the party’s populist campaign promises in the 2012 presidential election - such as free school lunches, free medical services, free day care and half-price college tuitions - and in the April local elections, when the opposition came up with the idea of offering senior citizens free bus rides.
Korea is still reeling from the ruling and opposition parties’ cornucopia of campaign pledges in the last presidential race. Many local governments can’t fund the welfare programs and are helplessly declaring defaults. There’s a dark shadow to costly campaign pledges.
As the opposition prepares to unleash another series of populist welfare pledges to the people regardless of their financial impact, we cannot but wonder if any kind of collective intelligence is working for the party. Instead of apologizing for its past prodigality, the party is coming up with new ways to bust the budget regardless of the government’s fiscal condition.
NPAD Representative Hong Jong-hak, a former economics professor, asserted that the cost of constructing rental units for newlyweds could be borne by a 100 trillion won ($90.9 billion) fund of the National Housing Fund and by the government paying the interest. But his argument is not convincing as the 100 trillion won fund is aimed at helping low-income people without a home to finally own one. If the opposition pressed ahead with the plan while being well aware of this problem, it is deceiving the people.
More worrisome is the fact that such a ludicrous policy is pursued by a particular faction of the party. While a pro-Roh Moo-hyun group of 80 lawmakers led by former presidential candidate Moon Jae-in is united in its desire to provide the nearly rent-free housing, the rest - some 50 lawmakers with no affiliations with former president Roh - don’t support the idea at all. Political analysts say the pro-Roh faction has come up with the idea to consolidate the cohesion of the group ahead of the party’s national convention in February. If the NPAD desires to seize power again, it must first withdraw such an insane welfare program. JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 15, Page 30