The presidential transition team begins receiving policy briefings from government branches Friday as incumbent officials are growing weary of the difficulty of turning President-elect Park Geun-hye’s pledges into actual policy.
The week-long briefing sessions start with the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Defense Ministry and the Small and Medium Business Administration, underscoring the incoming leader’s priorities of building a fair and inclusive economy and strengthening national security.
During the presidential campaign, Park offered a set of measures to improve health care services and boost the welfare of low-income citizens. But government officials said budget constraints would crimp spending on her programs.
She also pledged to sharply reduce the military service term which sparked concerns among defense officials about its possible impact on the national defense posture.
On Thursday, the handover committee repeated its low-key position that its duty is to evaluate current policies and actual conditions.
“The focus is on making road maps containing implementation directions for policies the new government will push for,” committee spokesman Yoon Chang-jung said Thursday.
“We made it clear that we will hand the road maps over to the new government, rather than producing brand new policies.”
The Ministry of Health and Welfare is likely to express its opposition to Park’s major campaign pledge of offering full medical support for patients with one of four major diseases.
“(The ministry officials) are likely to speak cautiously about the pledge on four diseases, that it will be difficult (to implement),” an official said.
Instead, the ministry is likely to suggest an alternative plan that limits her proposal of offering full support to the patients. The ministry is considering covering full medical expenses for cancer treatment and other necessary tests, and excluding other costly state benefits pledged by the president-elect for the patients suffering from the deadly diseases.
|President-elect Park Geun-hye receives Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping’s letter from Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun in her office in Seoul on Thursday. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)|
Park’s welfare pledges include full medical support for patients with four major diseases: cancer, cerebrovascular and cardiac disorders, and terminal illness.
The president-elect said during a TV debate with her rival Moon Jae-in last month that her government will cover all expenses for patients with those diseases including the cost of caregivers, single-bed rooms as well as additional charges paid for consultation with specialists. Park said it will cost an additional 1.5 trillion won ($1.4 billion) a year.
However, critics and the opposition Democratic United Party have attacked her plan, saying it would cost trillions of won and hospitals would be flooded with patients wanting to attain the state benefits.
The ministry is also expected to address the government’s position to Park’s other welfare pledges such as free day care, pension programs and medical support for the elderly. The president-elect has pledged to introduce a life-long health and welfare system with programs tailored to all age groups from newborns to senior citizens.
In a move to reflect her pledges, the government is reportedly considering an overhaul of the nation’s pension system with an additional state input of 7 trillion won. The ministry plans to double the amount of monthly pension to senior citizens to 200,000 won, which the president-elect had pledged during her presidential campaign last year.
Currently, low-income elderly citizens aged over 65 and the disabled get 97,000 won a month. Park vowed to provide 200,000 won each for all senior citizens, regardless of their income level or size of property.
The ministry will be assigned later on to make additional reports upon the request of members of the committee, officials said. However, neither the ministry nor the committee will publicize details of policy briefing on Friday and keep them confidential, they added.
The Defense Ministry’s policy briefing to Park is to focus on the revamp of the top command structure, the retaking of wartime operational control, troops’ service period and welfare, and defense along the Northern Limit Line, a de facto sea border.
The incoming government faces an array of daunting defense tasks as the North continues to pose a grave military threat with uncertainty growing over the regional security landscape amid the rise of China.
Defense reform is likely to be atop the ministry’s priority list as it is at the center of its efforts to enhance cooperation among the Army, Navy and Air Force and better prepare itself against possible North Korean provocations.
Some members of the presidential transition team are reportedly against the current reform plan, arguing that it could give inordinate power to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and too much work to the chiefs of the three armed services.
Under the plan, the chiefs of the three military services fall under the operational control of the JCS chairman. The chiefs, whose current role is limited to administrative affairs such as training and personnel matters, are to be given commanding authority under the plan.
The ministry argues that the plan merging the military command and administration would enhance inter-service cooperation and make military operations speedier and more efficient.
Another item on the agenda at the briefing is the term of mandatory military service. Park has pledged to shorten the term by three months to 18 months. But the ministry has expressed concern that the plan could result in a troop shortage and weaken the country’s overall combat capabilities.
The transfer of wartime operational control slated for December 2015 is also a crucial issue. Seoul and Washington have been in consultation over creating a new joint command mechanism and a strong defense posture following the transfer.
The Small and Medium Business Administration plans to underscore the need to be independent from the Knowledge Economy Ministry when it gives a policy briefing to President-elect Park on Friday, sources said.
The report includes the SMBA’s proposal to be upgraded to a government ministry to more efficiently implement policies for small and medium-sized firms, according to the sources.
The debate on whether or not the new government will create a ministry for small and medium-sized enterprises is heating up as Park has expressed her support for protection of small firms.
It is the first time for the SME policymaker to come first in the lineup for a policy briefing to the presidential transition committee.
During the campaign, Park vowed to root out irrational, unfair and imbalanced business practices by conglomerates against SMEs, while protecting small shops and the self-employed.
Some industry watchers agree that it is necessary for the SMBA to be independent from the ministry so it can develop SME-focused policies and have more power to inspect and penalize unfair business practices.
By Cho Chung-un (email@example.com)
(Park Hyong-ki and Song Sang-ho contributed to this article.)