Park to speak about controversial welfare projects later this week

SEOUL, Sept. 23 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye plans to speak about a promised senior pension program in a Cabinet meeting later this week, an official said Monday, amid indications the administration is scaling back expensive welfare programs due to a tight budget.

Park is expected to use the Cabinet meeting set for Thursday to offer reasons why her administration is unable to carry out such welfare projects as exactly as promised during last year's presidential campaign and ask for understanding from the public.

The meeting will be held to approve the government's budget proposal for next year. The prime minister usually presides over such a Cabinet meeting, but Park decided to preside over it herself, senior presidential press secretary Lee Jung-hyun said.

"During the meeting, the president is expected to speak about the basic pension issue and providing state subsidies for (treating) four major illnesses," Lee said, referring to two of Park's signature welfare projects promised during last year's campaign.

The pension promise called for providing all senior citizens aged 65 or older with a monthly allowance of 200,000 won (US$186) regardless of their income level, while the health care promise called for expanding the state health insurance to cover all cost of treatment for cancer and three other hard-to-cure diseases.

Moreover, Park promised she will implement these projects without tax hikes.

But she has been persistently dogged by questions about whether she will be able to implement all of such expensive projects without raising taxes, with experts and even some members of her ruling Saenuri Party calling for scaling back some of the programs.

Her campaign projects were estimated to cost a total of about 135 trillion won.

Should the government scale back some of the projects, Park is expected to come under fire for failing to fulfill her campaign pledges.

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