| Kim Yong-joon, chairman of the presidential transition committee, called a news conference Thursday and said, "Each of the pledges put forward in the presidential election campaign was prepared with sincerity after sufficient discussions on their feasibility and the possibility of raising financial resources." He added, "At a time when the new government hasn`t launched yet and a review of campaign promises is under way, it will confuse the people and goes against what`s right to demand that we should not honor campaign promises or claim that the country would be worse off if all the campaign promises are kept." Kim was criticizing calls from the political circles and certain media outlets for scaling back or scrapping expensive pledges.
Though the comments were Kim`s own, they should be interpreted as reflecting the president-elect`s intent. Campaign pledges are made on the premise that they will be kept. In that sense, Park`s reconfirmation of her determination to carry out her promises cannot be criticized. Sometimes, however, the losses outweigh gains on certain pledges. A case in point is the construction of the new administrative town of Sejong City. Though Park stubbornly opposed President Lee Myung-bak`s proposal to revise the construction plan and insisted that a promise be kept, the Sejong City plan is the culmination of administrative inefficiency. Park might have been right politically, but the government has a lot to lose because of the relocation to Sejong City.
The chief executive should keep his or her campaign pledges, but state coffers are also important. Certain experts say Park in making her pledges underestimated projected fiscal spending. For instance, she said her plan to offer free treatment for four major diseases would cost about 6 trillion won (5.7 billion U.S. dollars). Yet in a recent symposium held jointly by four welfare-related academic societies and research organizations, the estimated cost was 21.8 trillion won (20.6 billion dollars). This suggests that implementing Park`s pledges could cost more than 131 trillion won (124 billion dollars) over the next five years as estimated by the ruling Saenuri Party.
To debate whether an election winner should honor campaign promises is not appropriate. Each candidate should conduct thorough calculations of the costs, and feasibility of the promises should be checked in the campaign process. How regrettable that the Strategy and Finance Ministry attempted to verify the workability of campaign pledges in the run-up to the April 11 parliamentary elections, only to fail because the election watchdog cried foul.
The ministry plans to draw up detailed measures to secure funds for implementing Park`s pledges at the transition committee`s request, but there is a limit in what the government can do. Through this opportunity, a national committee of experts, the transition team and politicians should be formed to estimate the costs more accurately. Then, it should discuss whether to revise, scrap or re-prioritize pledges and how to finance them.