For certain people in prominent roles within the Moon Jae-in administration, probably few words are more apt than “hypocrite.”
On Friday, presidential spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom offered to resign over allegations that he had made a speculative real estate investment during his time at Cheong Wa Dae. He bought a 2.5 billion won ($2.19 million) building in a lucrative Seoul redevelopment zone and raised about half that amount through loans.
Kim argued it was not speculation but an investment. But his argument failed to quell the public uproar. Some citizens left angry posts on the internet, asking questions such as, “Is it an investment when they buy real estate but speculation when we do it?” People also questioned how he was able to borrow that much despite tight regulations on household loans.
The Moon administration has tried to curb housing inflation in an effort to assist non-homeowners. It has kept a close watch on real estate issues and has taken strong measures on 11 occasions in the 22 months since Moon took power. Then his spokesperson came under suspicion of speculation and stepped down.
Kim is not the only one to have shown hypocrisy in real estate matters.
Of Moon’s recent minister nominees, four of seven own two or more homes. The controversy over Choi Jeong-ho, nominated for the post of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister, was particularly concerning. He held the rights to a large apartment in a complex in Sejong City that had yet to be built. His wife rented out an apartment in Seoul where she had never lived. The couple lived in Gyeonggi Province in an apartment they rented from their married daughter -- after transferring ownership of the unit to her. Serious questions arose over whether he was fit to lead the ministry, and on Sunday, he offered to withdraw.
According to recently disclosed data on the assets of high-ranking public officials, 25 of 86 government ministers, vice ministers and Cheong Wa Dae secretaries own two or more homes. The same holds true for 40 percent of Cheong Wa Dae officials in charge of real estate issues and senior Land Ministry officials. What are people to conclude from this?
The double standards don’t stop at real estate.
The Moon administration has also vowed to do away with academic elitism. Yet Science and ICT Minister nominee Cho Dong-ho remitted more than 700 million won to his two sons over seven years to cover their expenses while they were studying abroad. He also bought them expensive foreign cars. Asked during a hearing how he had made the money, he said it had come from his tenants’ key money. Moon finally withdrew his nomination for Cho on Sunday.
Ironically, the two daughters of Unification Minister nominee Kim Yeon-chul, who is critical of the US, are studying in the States. He has sent them more than 500 million won over the past seven years. The son of SMEs and Startups Minister nominee Park Young-sun also studies in the US. The incumbent environment and science ministers’ children reportedly attended schools abroad.
Going abroad to study is not blameworthy. The point is that the government is endeavoring to put an end to elite education in Korea while some of its officials send their own children overseas to receive even more costly education. Two sons of the superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education attended a private elite high school in Seoul, yet he now seeks to dismantle the elite high school system.
A Gallup Korea poll found Friday that Moon’s approval rating had fallen to 43 percent, the lowest level so far in his presidency. This probably has something to do with the hypocritical behavior of his spokesman, minister nominees and high-ranking officials. If they continue to observe double standards, public trust in the government will decline further.
Controversies surrounding the minister nominees stem from loose screening criteria. Cheong Wa Dae’s vetting system should have filtered out candidates with serious shortcomings.
Without the asset disclosure system, people might have been kept in the dark about what looked suspiciously like speculative investments on Kim Eui-kyeom’s part. The presidential office needs to check frequently for any material changes in assets possessed by aides to the president.
Moon pledged to ensure equal opportunities, fair proceedings and just results, but his words ring hollow.