Park takes swipe at welfare minister insisting on quitting over pension program

SEOUL, Sept. 30 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye said Monday that evading criticism is no solution to problems, apparently taking a swipe at her welfare minister insisting defiantly on quitting after she scaled back a promised pension program for senior citizens.

"Cabinet ministers and senior presidential secretaries should do their jobs with a sense of responsibility and duty," Park said during a weekly meeting with senior aides. "Evading criticism does not resolve problems. The determination and belief that we can confidently resolve problems will help resolve the problems."

Her remarks came a day after Health and Welfare Minister Chin Young said he is firm on stepping down to take responsibility for the downsized pension program, even though Park turned down his resignation last week.

Chin's insistence came as a surprise as he has long been considered a close ally of Park and one of key architects of her campaign pledges on welfare issues.

Later Monday, Prime Minister Chung Hong-won said Chin's resignation will be accepted.

In a statement, Chung also expressed displeasure with Chin's defiance, saying his attitude is "deeply regrettable" and accusing the outgoing minister of offering to quit in "such an irresponsible" manner.

"This has nothing to do with one's personal belief or conscience. This is a matter about responsibility and a sense of duty as a Cabinet member," Chung said.

During last year's presidential campaign, Park promised to give all senior citizens aged 65 or older a monthly allowance of 200,000 won (US$186). But the government revised the program last week to exclude the richest 30 percent from the benefit, saying it takes too much money to carry out the project in its entirety.

Park offered a public apology for scaling back the plan last week. Still, she said the change does not mean she has abandoned the campaign promise and promised to try to expand the pension program during the remainder of her five-year term to fulfill the promise.

The opposition party has accused Park of making a false pension promise in an attempt to win the votes of senior citizens, vowing to get the administration to implement the pension program as originally promised.

"Though some alterations were inevitably made, I will make my best efforts to carry out the election promise during my term" as long as the national economy and the state finances allow for it, Park said.

Park also stressed that no taxpayer money should be wasted.

"We have to meticulously check expenditures to make sure that not a single penny of taxpayer money goes down the drain," she said. "Public servants should feel heavy responsibility as they use taxes and the national budget."

She also called for rooting out tax evasion, calling it an "extremely selfish crime."

"We have to create a social atmosphere where those who pay a lot of taxes are given corresponding assessments, and those who evade taxes should be pursued until the end," she said.

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