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[Editorial] Gov`t Backtracks on Stopping Waste

Posted December. 20, 2008 02:00,   


Piles of chairs, desks, refrigerators, tables, sofas, boxes and bundles of used paper were abandoned in an empty space near a building in downtown Seoul. The facility was once occupied by the now-defunct Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, whose staff were reassigned to the Homeland and Maritime Affairs Ministry or the Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry. The Health, Welfare and Family Affairs Ministry settled in where the Maritime Ministry once nestled in, and threw away the former occupant’s office supplies, most of which were in good shape. Some of them were less than two years old and certain discarded chairs were even bought at 200,000 won each. The disposed paper included official documents that contained the seal of the maritime minister.

The media quickly pounced on this government waste, which prompted officials to move the “garbage” to a warehouse Saturday. The Health Ministry said, “The office goods were not to be disposed of. The ministry planned to recycle or use them after consultation.” However, those words were not very convincing, judging from the haphazard way the goods were stored. If they were up for recycling, the ministry should have put up a notice to prevent citizens from taking them.

Looking at the abandoned goods, a person would have griped, “They were probably bought with our taxes.” In ministry briefings, President Lee Myung-bak has urged officials to prevent budget waste. While demonstrating the spirit of saving by riding high-speed bullet trains instead of a helicopter on business trips, he also reminded them of wasted funds such as those for the Saemangeum land reclamation project, which has overlapping construction. He also criticized the wasteful practice of former governments saying, “Every single won (Korean currency) matters when it comes to tax.” His words, however, ring hollow given the latest debacle.

The office goods might not have cost much, but the incident undermines the trust people have in the government, which implemented a budget cut of ten percent on the one hand but wasted resources on the other. Public servants might not be fond of the expression “blood tax,” or tax paid by the people’s sweat, but this reflects reality. If officials fail to realize how precious tax is in paying for state vehicles and office goods, they do not deserve to stay at their posts. People look forward to the day when the new government truly lives up to its spirit of saving as promised from the beginning.