President Moon Jae-in’s chief of staff Noh Young-min and five senior secretaries in Noh’s office offered to resign Friday.
Cheong Wa Dae said their actions were an expression of intent to take responsibility for the recent situation.
The recent situation seems to mean simmering public discontent with the failure of measures to curb skyrocketing housing and jeonse (rent-free housing lease) prices.
When it comes to resignations to take responsibility for real estate policy failures, however, Kim Sang-jo, senior secretary for policy, and senior secretary for economy in Kim’s office, should have been the first to tender their resignations. There is no talk either of Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Hong Nam-ki and Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee offering to step down.
The senior presidential aides’ expression of intention to resign altogether reflects crisis facing the Moon administration. It is hard to deny the crisis was caused partly by senior officials themselves in the presidential office and the administration.
The Moon government stigmatizes owners of multiple houses as speculators, but some high-ranking officials in the government and Cheong Wa Dae are owners of two or more homes.
People did not ask Cheong Wa Dae officials to sell their houses, but late last year, Noh told staff members of the presidential office who have multiple houses to dispose of them except for those they intend to live in.
Noh, who owned two apartments, one in Seoul’s expensive Gangnam area and one in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, had a hard time disposing of them.
Cheong Wa Dae announced that Noh will sell his Gangnam apartment, but less than an hour later it corrected the announcement, saying he will sell his apartment not in Seoul but in Cheongju.
He then came under criticism that even the president’s chief of staff is no exception to the public preference for Seoul apartments. Eventually Noh sold his two apartments, but his abrupt change of a plan to sell his house undermined the prestige of Cheong Wa Dae.
Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs Kim Jo-won added fuel to popular distrust with the Moon government. He put up one of his two Gangman apartments for sale but reportedly for 200 million won more than its market value.
People questioned his intent to dispose of the apartment. With criticism rising, he withdrew it from the market.
Cheong Wa Dae said most husbands know little about real estate trades, but it was an unconvincing excuse. Kim pretended to sell his house and used his wife as an excuse when problems arose.
The senior secretary for personnel affairs and senior secretary for civil society still own multiple houses.
The Moon administration unveiled its 23rd package of real estate measures on Aug. 4, but the market is still turbulent, with jeonse prices rising further.
The ruling party revised the real estate tax law but homeowners complain of “punitive” taxes. It also revised the house lease law, but leaseholders are dissatisfied at regulations favoring tenants too much.
The government recently shifted focus from demand suppression to supply expansion, but the market reacts skeptically. Some local governments and residents oppose new policies on reconstruction and redevelopment, saying they are far from what they want.
People are not angry only at real estate measures.
They are angered by other failed policies, too, such as income-led economic growth, the nuclear power phase-out, cosmetic prosecution reform, and an almost blind appeasement of North Korea.
Recently, people are shaking their heads at the ruling party getting its own way after it won the general election.
Intoxicated with its landslide in the elections, it acted unilaterally. It swept chairmanship of all of the National Assembly standing committees, passed a government extra budget unilaterally, ignored opposition parties’ opinions in confirmation hearings, and skipped some procedures and discussions in passing their bills.
The president occasionally reshuffled the government and Cheong Wa dae. Moon replaced his senior secretary for policy twice, but has never changed the keynote of policy.
Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling party must stop acting so arrogantly. They must read public opinion correctly. Otherwise, they cannot win back public trust even if the president reshuffles Cheong Wa Dae.