November 19, 2021 13:09
Minjoo Party presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung said Thursday that he will not insist on handing out coronavirus relief payments to all citizens, but he added small businesses "urgently need support" to survive the impact of the pandemic. That is a startling U-turn from Lee's campaign pledge late last month to hand out between W300,000 and W500,000 in additional support money to every citizen (US$1=W1,183). Lee said he withdrew his plan due to "resistance from the opposition and reluctance by the government." But in fact it was an opinion poll that showed 60 percent of the public opposed his plan.
The incident demonstrates what can happen if government business gets tangled up in elections. The ruling party tried to pull out all the stops to support Lee's pledge, even trying to defer part of this year's tax collection to next year in order to fund the bonanza. Minjoo Party lawmakers threatened the finance minister with a National Assembly hearing when he opposed the plan citing a violation of tax laws, and Lee threatened to strip the ministry of budget-planning duties.
When he falsely claimed that the government's coffers were being filled by surplus tax revenues, MP-affiliated regional mayors and governors jumped on the bandwagon ahead of their own regional elections next year. Ulsan, Incheon and Gwangju announced plans to award W100,000 in COVID-19 relief payouts to each citizen. Suncheon added to the hype by submitting a W29 billion supplementary budget plan to the city council.
The MP deceived the public by claiming that the government's coffers are overflowing with money. In reality, the government is W90 trillion in the red this year. Even the finance minister criticized the plan as being "hopeless." Lee's U-turn shows that only a sensible public can slam the brake on populist policies. Koreans must keep an eye on reality and keep politicians in check so sovereign debt stops rising at the fastest pace in the developed world.
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