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[Editorial] Well-used Soil to Reduce Nat’l Debt

Posted January. 21, 2008 08:16,   


The construction of a sand landfill in the Gunsan-Janghang region, which the presidential transition committee has singled out as a symbol of budget waste, vividly demonstrates how recklessly public officials throw away taxpayers’ money. The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry has invested 168 billion won to build a landfill near Saemangeum to dump earth and sand from the construction of a sea route in Gunsan-Janghang, which is scheduled to begin in 2010. Given the huge amount of soil needed in the Saemangeum land reclamation project, filling up the site with sand from the sea route’s construction will save 843 billion won, according to the committee.

Though the ministry defended itself by saying the construction of a separate landfill was inevitable because the Saemangeum plan was not completed at the time, it is unimaginable for private companies to carry out any project in this haphazard way. Given the project’s cost of hundreds of billions of won, the ministry should have thoroughly studied its feasibility and devised ways to effectively use the budget in consultation with other organizations.

This is not an isolated case of how the government squanders tax money. Whenever the end of the year approaches, people see that decent sidewalk blocks are being replaced with new ones. The public knows why this absurd work is being done. If provincial governments fail to consume the budget allocated to them by year’s end, they purchase unnecessary equipment or send officials aboard to use up the budget.

To resolve this structural problem, the committee said it will not reduce budget for next year even if unused funds remains. But this is not a fundamental solution. Take the practice of the replacement of sidewalk blocks, for example. The government has promised to root out the practice several times, but it goes on. Unless public officials stop thinking of the national budget as money to be misused and that taxes are not their money, no measure will solve this problem.

At the end of 2002, before the Roh Moo-hyun administration was inaugurated, the national budget deficit was 133.6 trillion won. The figure is estimated to have increased 125 percent to 300 trillion won last year, largely because the government went against the world trend of a “small government” by bloating state organizations and increasing payroll in the public sector. Add to this overlapping expenditures, non-profitable investment and pork barrel projects. Managing the nation is not different from managing companies and individual households. Spending more than one’s income is a recipe for bankruptcy.

The presidential transition committee has come up with guidelines to cut down each ministry’s annual budget 10 percent. Experts say, however, that a cut of 20 percent is possible if financial abuse in every sector is removed. As the elimination of electrical poles in the Daebul Industrial Complex shows, well-used soil in a sea route project will result in the reduction of the national debt.