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Taxpayers` sovereignty movement picking up steam

Posted March. 04, 2001 19:11,   


March 3 is Taxpayers` Day. The National Tax Service (NTS) last year changed the name from Tax Day to place more emphasis on the rights of taxpayers rather than their duties.

Are the rights of taxpayers really guaranteed, and thus in keeping with the name? Although the annual average tax amount to be paid by Koreans this year is 2.51 million won, many analysts point out that Korean taxpayers just do their duty, but cannot exercise their rights.

Amid escalating public criticism over the budget extravagance of the government and public institutions in the recent nullification of the Shihwa Lake project, a growing number of civic organizations launched a movement to recover the rights of taxpayers through supervision of budget outlays.

Wasting taxes that were squeezed from the people:

Among the major examples of budget extravagance cited by civic organizations were the 920 billion won project to create artificial Shihwa Lake, the hosting of the international environment exhibition in Hanam City, Kyonggi Province at a cost of 18.6 billion won, the construction of the Jewelry Museum at a cost of 23 billion won, and the 4.5 billion won in pensions paid to former lawmakers through irregular means.

Others were the funds paid to heads of local self-governing bodies, 200 billion won a year of which is used for meals; expenses for overseas ``training`` of local assemblymen, most of which is apparently for tourism; and 15 billion won in annual budget expenses to purchase necessary books.

Lee Sang-Phil, leader of the Citizens Action Network, said, ``Although the people do not directly feel the budget extravagance, the wasted money comes from them.``

Will the legal code for taxpayers be legislated?

Eight civic organizations, including the People`s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), Citizens Action Network, Seoul Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), and Citizens` Coalition for Economic Justice, held the 2001 Taxpayers` Rally at the YMCA auditorium in Chongno-gu, Seoul Saturday, and declared this year the ``first year for recovering the rights of taxpayers.``

They selected the enactment of a special law concerning the lawsuit of taxpayers as the most urgent issue to be addressed as part of this effort. The petition to enact the law, jointly signed by 67 civic organizations last December, was propelled by 20 lawmakers from the ruling and opposite parties, including Rep. Lee Joo-Young of the Grand National Party.

The taxpayers` law would defend the right of a citizen to file suit for the suspension of the budget`s execution or the withdrawal of wasted budget funds and receive one-tenth (up to 1 billion won) of any legal settlement when the suit is resolved.

Hah Seung-Soo, chief of the taxpayers` movement headquarters at PSPD, said, ``The revision also includes articles to prevent the imposition of layoffs or disadvantages on those who launch suits, and allow state, local governments and public institutions to participate in the suit as a plaintiff.``

Examples in foreign countries:

Hah Seung-Chang, director-general of the Citizens Action network, said, ``There is the `qui tam` lawsuit system in the United States, under which a citizen can file suit for the withdrawal of wasted budget by the federal government, and a resident suit system in Japan. Through these systems, the United Stats and Japan are estimated to have saved some $458 million and 30 billion yen, respectively, in annual budget expenditures.``

Suh Young-A sya@donga.com