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Moon pledges last-ditch effort to bring normalcy back

President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech at the National Assemsbly in Seoul on Monday. (Cheong Wa Dae)
President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech at the National Assemsbly in Seoul on Monday. (Cheong Wa Dae)
President Moon Jae-in on Monday pledged a last-ditch effort to bring normalcy back and cement the economic recovery in his final address at the National Assembly before he leaves office in May.

“With six months left for my presidency, I’m deeply impressed by this final speech,” the president said as he opened his seventh parliamentary speech earlier in the day. “I’ll make an all-out effort until the very end for a complete return to normalcy and an economic recovery.”

Moon delivered the speech to urge a bipartisan support for next year’s budget plan. The government proposed a record high budget of 604.4 trillion won ($519 billion) as it plans to maintain an expansionary fiscal spending to bolster the economic recovery and narrow social gaps caused by COVID-19.

“Throughout my presidency, the government has grappled with a series of crises. Since last year, we have focused our resources into protecting both the economy and people from the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.

“We may have started vaccinations later than others but now we boast one of the highest vaccination rates at over 70 percent with people’s full support.”

On Saturday, the nation’s vaccination rate exceeded 70 percent, a precondition set by the government to return to normalcy.

“Based on stable containment and high vaccination rates, we are commencing a gradual return to normal life. Related measures will be implemented in earnest from November,” he said, making it sure that basic social distancing rules like wearing masks will remain in place during the phased shift.

The president also touted the nation’s fast economic recovery even among developed nations, saying the employment rate almost recovered to a pre-pandemic level last month while the nation’s credit ratings have remained solid.

But he stressed that there are still many people who cannot feel the economic recovery, citing the world’s lowest birthrate and the highest suicide and workplace death rates as a “shameful portrayal of the nation’s rapid growth.”

“The government will make efforts for a more inclusive recovery so that no one will be left behind,” he said. “In order to safeguard the people’s livelihoods, fiscal spending has taken on an even greater role.”

The government’s budget scheme focuses on three key areas: protecting people’s health and lives from COVID-19; supporting smaller merchants and more vulnerable groups; and cementing the nation’s structural transformation across industries for the future.

“Next year’s budget is the current government’s final budget and the next government’s first budget. I’m asking for a bipartisan support for the approval,” he said.

The president also touched on a range of issues, including the nation’s carbon neutrality goal, the latest remarkable achievements of the culture and entertainment sectors and last week’s successful launch of a homemade rocket.

On security issues, however, he spent less time compared to previous speeches as he briefly commented on his will to continue diplomatic efforts to achieve peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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