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Don’t hide behind committees

July 07,2018
There are a number of committees — many of them under the president — in charge of reforms and addressing pending and longer-term issues under the government. There are nearly 10 in the Blue House working on state agendas — policy planning, jobs, and national education. Each committee also has special task force teams or special subcommittees to work on specific themes. The fact that the president keeps so many advisory committees suggests how keen he is to see through the agenda he promised to the voters. He may not want them to go wasted in the complexity of administrative policy-making if it is left up to a government office or organization.

But what these committees come up with are often not in tune with government organizations. A special presidential committee on fiscal reform has recommended a set of proposals to revise comprehensive taxes on real estate and financial investment incomes. The finance ministry objected to its advice to lower the taxable base rate on progressive levy for return and dividend gains to 10 million won ($8,961) from current 20 million won. The government claims the move would hurt the working class and retired population who depend largely on interest and dividend income for living.

The special committee has not sought any coordination with the responsible government office. Moreover, its suggestion coincides with the proposal from the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy published in March. The tax chief from the finance ministry voiced opposition to the idea at the committee, but other members from civilian activist groups pushed ahead with it.

The Blue House tried to quench the controversy by saying it backs what the finance ministry maintains and claimed the committee is just an advisory group.

In general and by law, a presidential advisory committee’s role is to make suggestions on policy, and it is the administrative office that designs and executes public policies. But under the liberal administration, special committees with civilian activists and scholars onboard outsized their role and have a say in shaping policies.

The Blue House must directly address tricky issues like tax hikes instead of hiding behind the back of an advisory committee. The government is seeking to raise taxes and expand fiscal spending, but it does not publicly admit it. It declines to comment if all the spending plans are possible without tax increases. For any serious policy move, it must make a stand and fully explain the reasons if it wants support from the people.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 6, Page 30