Screen the budget

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Screen the budget

The Ministry of Strategy and Finance has made a controversial move to increase the budget for building infrastructure in Daegu and North Gyeongsang province - home turf of the conservative Park Geun-hye government - by 560 billion won ($484.4 million) more than what the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport called for.

According to Rep. Kim Yoon-duk, a lawmaker from the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, the infrastructure ministry originally allotted a 165.8 billion won budget for the construction of roads and railways in Daegu but the amount was ratcheted up to 472.3 billion won by the finance ministry.

Then the infrastructure budget for North Gyeongsang was raised to 1.88 trillion won from 1.62 trillion won, a 260 billion won increase. Meanwhile, the social overhead capital (SOC) budget for Chungcheong and Jeolla provinces was slashed by 139.1 billion won and 56.9 billion respectively.

Ministries’ budget proposals go through a review by the finance ministry to finalize the government’s budget. Ministries’ demands for budgets are supposed to be slashed. It is very difficult to understand the finance ministry’s decision to provide hefty financial assistance to certain areas while slashing budget proposals for other regions. If the ministry’s budget plan goes through the National Assembly, a whopping 22.5 percent of the government’s SOC budget goes to Daegu and North Gyeongsang.

The government attributed this to “a coincidental concentration of already-scheduled or necessary projects,” adding that it’s meaningless to examine the government’s SOC budget by region. What a poor excuse! Infrastructure investment should be made solely based on the principle of balanced development of the country. It doesn’t make sense to say that demand for building infrastructure has suddenly soared in a particular region.

What attracts our attention is that ministers who are expected to run in the April 13 election are involved in budget appropriations. The original infrastructure budget proposal was made by Yoo Il-ho, a ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker who last month stepped down as minister of land, infrastructure and transport to run in the election. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan raised his budget proposal by a big margin. Choi is running for reelection in Daegu. The government can hardly rebut the opposition’s claim that the government’s budget is aimed at winning the election next year.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 12, Page 34

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