Ruling Democratic Party presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung withdrew his call for additional disaster relief handouts, 20 days after he had proposed late last month to provide extra cash handouts of 300,000 won to 500,000 won per person. It is only natural that the proposal has been withdrawn. Lee said he will not insist on his own way since the opposition party is against the proposal and the government is balking at it as well. He said the decision was based on the opposition from the opposition parties and the government but it is a nonsense trying to avoid responsibility.
Lee’s proposal was apparently aimed at winning public support ahead of the presidential election since the payment of additional handout was targeted in Jan. next year. It was a populist pledge made without any prior consultation with the ruling party or the government. Even though fiscal authorities hinted their disapproval, Lee misled the public by saying, “The government treasury is being filled with 40 trillion won in excess tax revenue” and “Is it reasonable for a rich country to have poor people?” The term “excess” tax revenue itself is an illusion. It is not the money to be squandered away. The “excess” tax revenue is not from a bull economy but from the surge in house prices. This year, the fiscal deficit reached 90 trillion won. According to the National Finance Act, the surplus of tax revenue must first be used for local grant tax, financial grants for local education and redemption of national bonds. If Lee had attempted to proceed with his proposal without knowing such facts, he would have revealed the limits of his ability to manage the government.
The attitude of the ruling party was disappointing as well. They used all sorts of tricks, changing the title of the handout to “relief fund for the recovery of daily lives” and lowering the amount to 200,000-250,000 won per person. There was also a tax referral trick, which was intended to delay the collection of some taxes to next year in order to throw cash before the election. Against this backdrop, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance caused a controversy by erroneously reporting that the surplus of tax revenue this year is a little over 10 trillion won when it actually was 19 trillion won. In response, the ruling party threatened to open a state investigation and Lee hinted at taking away the ministry’s right to manage the budget. Cheong Wa Dae, however, remained silent, saying the matter should be dealt with between the ruling party and the government.
A presidential candidate from ruling party does not have the right to use the national budget violating the law. There has been no precedent, where the ruling party, the government and the office of the president experienced such confusion at the words of a presidential candidate. Cheong Wa Dae said Lee’s withdrawal was a “welcoming” decision. Some in the ruling party even said Lee showed he can be flexible in his decision-making even though the country was in much confusion for 20 days. Such reaction is a testament that they consider the public as fools.