Give money where it’s neededThe clash between the government and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) over relief grants is being intensified. In the beginning, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance planned to give the money to people in the lower 70 percent income brackets, but the ministry backed down and agreed to raise the scope to the lower 80 percent after discussions with the DP. However, pressured by hard-line lawmakers and Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung, the frontrunner among DP candidates in the primary race for the next presidential election, DP Chairman Song Young-gil is determined to give the handouts to all.
Rep. Song deviated from the agreement between the DP and the government. Some DP lawmakers even demand the proposed 33-trillion-won ($28.9 billion) supplementary budget be increased. Song and opposition People Power Party (PPP) leader Lee had agreed to offer relief grants to the struggling self-employed and small business owners first and then give money to the rest of the people if there are financial resources available. The DP’s push for a universal relief package is apparently aimed at winning the Mar. 9 presidential election next year.
Gov. Lee even insisted on “railroading the budget bill” based on the super-majority the DP holds in the National Assembly. But Lee’s proposal goes against the grand principle of democracy, which requires government revenues and expenditures be controlled by representatives of the people. Taxes are paid by the people. If the right to use those taxes is controlled by a certain party, which got 49.9 percent of the votes in the last parliamentary elections while the PPP got 41.4 percent of the votes, that’s not fair. In a representative democracy, a minority party’s view should be respected.
Talks on the supplementary budget started with a comment President Moon Jae-in made in his New Year’s press conference. “We can consider handing out relief grants if the Covid-19 pandemic subsides,” he said. The grants were aimed at boosting consumption to help the economy. But the pandemic is getting worse.
Our current situation calls for financial help for mom-and-pop store owners and small merchants. 2.45 million of them already borrowed 831.8 trillion won from banks as of March, the largest amount since 2012. Loans to the self-employed in the first quarter increased 18.8 percent on year. They are urgently in need of money to stay afloat.
In the National Assembly, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum expressed skepticism about doling out the grants to people whose incomes did not decrease as a result of the pandemic. He is right. We hope the government wins its budget battle with the DP this time.