As the June local elections draw near, candidates from the ruling and opposition parties have begun to put forward campaign pledges which are highly questionable in terms of feasibility.
Chung Mong-joon, a ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker who announced his candidacy for Seoul mayor, promised to restart the development project for the Yongsan Station area in central Seoul.
The 31-trillion-won project fell through a year ago when its developer went bankrupt. The mega-development project, the largest of its kind ever promoted in Korea, was a castle in the sky.
Promoters hoped the booming real estate market would make the project profitable, but their hopes were crushed when the 2008 global financial crisis burst the real estate bubble.
With the property market still in doldrums, promoting a large-scale development project would be a risky proposition.
Yet Chung’s scheme is far less risky compared with the free bus service plan put forward by Kim Sang-gon, a former superintendent of the Gyeonggi Province Office of Education who is making a bid for Gyeonggi governor.
Kim is seeking the nomination of the new coalition opposition party being promoted by the main opposition Democratic Party and a political group led by Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo.
Kim was the man who ignited the controversy over free school meals in the local elections four years ago. In the preceding year, Kim won the by-election for the top education post of Gyeonggi Province, thanks in part to his pledge to introduce free meals for all elementary and middle school students.
Now he is proposing free bus services in Gyeonggi, seeking to repeat his electoral success of five years ago.
Kim’s free bus service scheme, like the free lunch program, is actually not free. It has to be financed by taxpayers. To make bus rides free of charge, the provincial government will have to compensate for the deficits of private bus companies, effectively converting them into public enterprises. This scheme is estimated to cost trillions of won.
Kim needs to be reminded of the ironies of providing free lunch to students, regardless of their family income. This program has turned into a budgetary black hole for many local educational offices. To fund this costly project, they had to cut spending on other programs for poor students.
When election campaigns go into full swing, more candidates are expected to come up with reckless pledges without specifying how they are going to finance them. Voters should not be lured by such irresponsible proposals.