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[Opinion] No More Pork-Barrel Politics

Posted November. 25, 2005 08:29,   


There is a term used in U.S. politics called “pork barrel,” which means giving out budget or projects that yield jobs or other benefits to a specific local area out of political consideration. The term is reportedly derived from the pre-Civil War practice of distributing salt pork to the slaves from huge barrels.

In this sense, it is fair to say that “pork barrel” today means the political practice of giving out a “dish of pork” to local constituencies. Today, the term is used when the media criticizes lawmakers who attempt to induce budgets for projects for specific local areas from the federal budget, which is composed of taxpayers’ money.

In Korea, both the ruling and opposition camps are engaged in pork barrel politics. They create “political budgets” by striving to secure budgets for the local areas in which they were elected. Sometimes lawmakers and heads of self-governing bodies are engaged in disputes after boasting of their roles in securing local budget appropriations.

It is also “pork barrel” politics to allocate more political positions to a particular region. Often, politicians give out a large amount of money to a more broad range of people than their constituencies, including farmers and people subject to the National Basic Livelihood Security Act, for political purposes. Such a political practice could be called “beef barrel” politics, which are larger than pork barrel in size.

As the country had to open up its agricultural market according to the Uruguay Round negotiations, the Kim Young-sam administration allocated 42 trillion won in budget for improving the structure of farming and fishing communities. The Kim Dae-jung government also provided 45 trillion won in assistance. There was some change, such as the rearrangement of farming land, provision of agricultural machines, and shift to full-time farmers. However, farmers are suffering from debts which increase faster than income. Korea’s rice farming is losing its competitive edge in the international market. Uri Party Representative Cho Il-hyun aptly said on November 23 in the National Assembly, “Politicians failed to nurture the competitive edge of the agricultural sector, even with 42 trillion won, because (political circles) just move toward where they can garner votes.”

The Roh Moo-hyun government also announced it would extend 119 trillion won in investment and loans to the agricultural sector and farming communities over the next 10 years. One might question whether the bitter experience of pouring in some 80 trillion won over the past 10 years without tangible results produced a good lesson. Now, money should go to a farming community revival project that can produce tangible results, rather than one that can “produce votes.” Pork barrel politics will not work this time. And, to make this possible, the government should now learn how to correctly spend taxpayers’ money.

Hong Kwon-hee, Editorial Writer, konihong@donga.com