SEOUL, Sept. 30 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister Chung Hong-won said Monday he will accept the health minister's resignation, expressing regret over his insistence on quitting over a disputed pension program and accusing him of trying to leave in such an "irresponsible" manner.
The announcement 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 for senior citizens, even though President Park Geun-hye rejected his resignation last week.
Chung's decision to accept the resignation was seen in line with Park's intentions. During a meeting with senior aides earlier in the day, Park took a swipe at Chin, saying evading criticism is no solution to problems.
Park is expected to formally endorse Chung's decision later.
Chin will be the first Cabinet member to step down since Park took office in February.
"What Minister Chin has so far shown to the people is deeply regrettable," Chung said in a statement. "I decided to accept the resignation as I determined that Minister Chin can no longer carry out duties for the people as a Cabinet member."
Chung also accused Chin of trying to "evade responsibility as a Cabinet member" by offering to step down in "such an irresponsible manner" at an important juncture when the National Assembly is in session and is expected to begin an annual audit of the government.
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.
Amid mounting criticism from the public, Chin offered his resignation last week, saying he wants to take responsibility as the main Cabinet minister handling the pension issue. But Park rejected the resignation.
On Sunday, Chin insisted on leaving, saying it goes against his "conscience" to remain in the job. His defiance came as a surprise as Chin has long been considered a close ally of Park and one of the key architects of her campaign pledges on welfare issues.
Prime Minister Chung said it makes no sense for Chin to claim that the revised pension program is different from his personal belief, stressing that the minister has been a key player in designing the program.
"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, claiming Chin's act gives a sense of disappointment and frustration to the people.
Earlier in the day, Park said she will continue to try to keep the election promise.
"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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