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Investment in safety is the most urgent welfare
MAY 02, 2014 00:19  
President Park Geun-hye on Thursday instructed her administration to put the highest budget priority on changing the country`s safety framework and focus the provision of manpower and budget on it. The instruction signals a paradigm shift in state management, putting fiscal priority on safety from disasters in a self-reflection upon Korean society`s push for economic growth in the wake of the recent deadly ferry sinking.

Until recently, welfare has been a fiscal black hole. Catching up with rising welfare demand, the nation has seen its welfare expenditures rising by a sharp degree, although the spending fell short of the average of welfare spending by member economies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This year`s welfare budget has broken through the 100 trillion won (96.9 billion U.S. dollars) mark. However, such a radical expansion of welfare came at the expense of safety budget. The 2013-2017 state fiscal management plan drawn by the government last year calls for a 4.9 percent decrease in disaster management budget on annual average.

The ferry disaster calls for the reflection upon the state fiscal management strategy and re-prioritizing of budget allocations. Despite the high public demand for welfare, protecting the lives and assets of the people from disasters is a basic duty of a country. A state originated from protecting a community from enemy invasions or natural disasters. Although there have been heated controversies over whether to pursue universal or selective welfare, the ferry disaster has made us realize that there is no other form of universal welfare more important than safety.

As the Dong-A Ilbo pointed out in Wednesday`s editorial, the expenses for rebuilding school buildings that received "disaster risk" ratings in safety tests come from safety budget. We wonder if there would be any parents who choose free school lunch over rebuilding schools that might collapse. The safety budge should also include establishing an effective disaster prevention and response system for public facilities including schools and strengthening relevant training and education.

The government has announced that a new safety ministry to be established will integrate safety-related budgets divided among various government ministries and agencies. However, a public consensus on the establishment of the new ministry has yet to be formed. The first thing that should be done is that each ministry and agency scrupulously checks potential threats to public safety and draw up relevant budgets. Government officials should change their notion that budgets to provision against disasters are a waste of money. Just like the defense budget, investment in safety is the cost of provisioning for disasters or accidents that might occur once in decades. Another difficult challenge is to secure fiscal soundness by getting rid of unnecessary projects while increasing welfare budget.

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