December 06, 2018 13:48
Lawmakers last week made waves by abruptly voting to give W2.5 million to each expecting mother from October of 2019 in a bid to boost the country's record-low birthrate (US$1=W1,114).
The decision came during a meeting to review next year's welfare budget and before any relevant bills had been proposed. The main opposition Liberty Korea Party tabled the amendment to next year's budget and the ruling Democratic Party agreed.
It is unprecedented for the budget for a policy to be waved through before the relevant laws are established.
Critics believe the move was a blatant attempt by lawmakers to secure their own seats in the 2020 general election.
The details are alarmingly vague. The W2.5 million amount is based on a rough estimate of the cost of post-partum care. Lawmakers estimated that supposing 330,000 babies are born in Korea a year, the central and regional governments could share the W206.3 billion cost burden for next year.
But officials at the Ministry of Health and Welfare are scratching their heads since no negotiations have been held with regional governments and nobody can be sure that they will agree.
It is also unclear what will happen to payments young mothers are already receiving from regional governments. Even if they agree, regional governments will be burdened with the task of revising their own budgets.
Another problem is that the measure is being pursued without a proper study of its effectiveness, which experts believe could be minimal. Prof. Jung Jae-hoon at Seoul Women's University said, "Governments in advanced countries set up infrastructure first and then award cash payments, but we are handling this in exactly the opposite way. There is no way to tell if promising cash to women will make them have more children."
Potential beneficiaries seemed unimpressed, some asking whether they have to wait to give birth until Oct. 1, 2019. The Cheong Wa Dae petition site was filled with messages asking that the payments encompass all births next year instead of just from October to December, which would hike the budget to W825 billion.
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