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[Editorial] Misguided budget plan?

Lawmakers should ensure no money will be wasted

During her election campaign last year, President Park Geun-hye pledged that patients with one of the government-designated four major illnesses ― cancer, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and incurable diseases ― would be charged a minimum amount of the cost of treatment.

She said the additional cost to be covered the state-administered medical insurance would be 1.5 trillion won each year. But she was accused by her opposition rival of being too conservative in her estimate.

Now the Park administration has come out with a more realistic figure. It says the additional cost to the medical insurance will amount to 9 trillion won over the next five years.

Still, the National Assembly Budget Office believes that the estimate is unjustifiably low. It claims that the administration will have to substantially increase medical insurance rates, government subsidies, or both.

The provision of greater support for patients is just one of the 359 government projects the parliamentary budget office finds fault with. They are among the 8,313 projects to be funded by the 2014 budget request. The following are some of the projects whose funding plans the budget office says are seriously flawed:

First is the basic pension scheme, which is set to replace the old-age pension program next July. Senior citizens aged 65 or older will be provided with a greater pension benefit. Each of them will be given a monthly allowance, ranging from 100,000 won to 200,000 won, if his income is outside the top 30 percent of senior citizen incomes.

Spending on the pension program is set at 5.2 trillion won for next year, up 63 percent from this year. The pension program is projected to cost 39 trillion won during the next five years. As the budget office points out, the central government has not agreed on a cost-sharing principle with provincial governments yet, though the launch of a new, more costly pension program is fast approaching.

Another problem lies with the subsidized housing project for newlyweds, physically disabled people and other minorities. The administration plans to set aside 953 billion won on the project in its 2014 budget plan. But the budget office warns it may cost twice as much, claiming that the uniform unit construction cost, set at a low level, fails to reflect the actual land prices in the neighborhoods where the new apartments are to be built.

The budget office also cites as problematic the provision of scholarships to third-born children for university education under a dubious population policy of increasing birthrates. It also questions the wisdom of funding a park for world peace in the Demilitarized Zone at a time when inter-Korean relations are strained.

But the administration says that the parliamentary budget office’s criticism is misplaced, claiming that none of the funding plans are so seriously flawed as to be overhauled. Their dispute, however, sets the tone of parliamentary deliberation on the administration’s budget plan.

Before passing the budget bill by Dec. 2, as is constitutionally required, lawmakers will have to ensure every penny from the taxpayers will be put to best use ― and all the more so, given that the bill is designed to sustain a fiscal deficit of 26 trillion won.
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