Opposition squawks at declaration cost estimates

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Opposition squawks at declaration cost estimates

Conservative opposition parties on Wednesday bristled at a motion to ratify the Panmunjom Declaration from the inter-Korean summit on April 27, claiming the government low-balled its cost estimates to carry out the agreement by trillions of won.

President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday reviewed the motion to ratify the inter-Korean agreement he signed with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and sent it to the National Assembly. Also sent was an estimated bill of 471.2 billion won ($417.2 million) to carry out various promises in the Panmunjom Declaration.

In it, the two leaders agreed to “adopt practical steps towards the connection and modernization of the railways and roads on the eastern transportation corridor as well as between Seoul and Sinuiju for their utilization.”

For the railway and road modernization project, the government earmarked 295.1 billion won in next year’s inter-Korean economic exchange and cooperation budget, while 33.6 billion won was earmarked for hosting family reunion events.

The government also earmarked 8.3 billion won for the operation of the Kaesong joint liaison office that is formally opening tomorrow. The government also set aside 113.7 billion won for forest cooperation and 20.5 billion won for social, cultural and sport exchange programs with the North.

The government said the 295.1 billion won figure for railway and road modernization was for next year alone. It did not forecast the total amount required to complete the project. In a report by the Unification Ministry drawn up in 2008, the cost of updating North Korea’s railroads and roads was estimated at 14.3 trillion won.

The opposition claimed the government was intentionally low-balling its figures.

“Is it right to only include the budget for next year when it is estimated to cost many trillion won to modernize railways and roads in North Korea?” said Rep. Kang Seok-ho of the major opposition Liberty Korea Party, who heads the assembly’s foreign affairs and unification committee, in a statement. He added that the price tag will grow dramatically.

Bareunmirae Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu also criticized the government for having submitted a low-ball cost estimate, saying the government was only admitting “short-term costs.”

“The government only announced the preliminary cost that will be needed right away while hiding the total cost,” snapped Sohn. He also criticized the Blue House for having sent the ratification bill on Tuesday after the ruling and opposition parties had agreed to discuss the issue after the Sept.18-20 summit in Pyongyang, calling it a “political play.”

The Blue House refuted criticisms that it was trying to conceal how much it will cost to modernize North Korean railways and roads, saying it included estimates for next year only due to the “unpredictability” of inter-Korean relations.

“Costs [associated with carrying out the Panmunjom Declaration] are subject to change depending on inter-Korean relations, so we asked the Assembly to look at the expenses that we can expect for next year as a first step,” a senior Blue House official told reporters, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Beyond the year 2019, it is difficult to estimate costs because of the unpredictable nature of the inter-Korean relationship,” the official said.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]
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