Moon Jae-in Library Should Be Canceled

      September 11, 2019 13:28

      The government until a few days ago planned to spend W17.2 billion in taxpayers' money to build a library dedicated to the life and career of Moon Jae-in in Busan once the president leaves office (US$1=W1,192). It would be the first of its kind paid for with taxpayers' money. So far the country has been content to store documents and other materials related to all previous presidents in a library in Sejong administrative city that opened in 2016. There is a separate library and museum dedicated to Kim Dae-jung, a vastly more distinguished figure than the incumbent, but it was paid for with his Nobel Peace Prize money.

      Moon's own library was to be built on a sprawling 5,000 sq.m plot of land in the southern port city. The existing library in Sejong employs 64 staff, yet the government will have to hire more than 20 staff just to look after the Moon collection. The Moon administration is starting to behave as if it is on a mission to empty the government's coffers over ever less useful projects.

      Korean law authorizes the construction of a presidential library "if necessary," but the tradition is nothing like as established as in the U.S. Former President Lee Myung-bak did not erect one for himself, and of course Park Geun-hye will not dare either. How is the public going to accept the excuse that the existing collective library built just four years ago is suddenly too small to contain the monumental achievements of Moon Jae-in? Regulations also mention the option of a private citizen or group building a presidential library with donations, as in Kim's case, while the government helps out. Nobody will be too upset if some ardent admirers of Moon, or even Moon himself, built him a library in due course with their own money.

      But since July last year, the government has been diverting resources and manpower to planning the construction of Moon's monument by hiring a company to conduct a feasibility study. It is, to say the least, unusual for a president who just completed his first year in office to get to work building himself a Great Pyramid. The government of course cited the U.S. example when submitting documents to the National Assembly and claimed that the project aims to "allow the president to engage in social roles after his term ends and to promote a respect for past leaders." But ex-presidents need no bombastic libraries to earn the public's respect. If they govern well, ensure that taxes are spent wisely to build a strong nation, and follow the will of the people, admiration will follow.

      But even as Korea faces a security crisis, the economy is in the doldrums and unemployment has soared to record highs, and even as the president has forced through the appointment of a justice minister who has become a new symbol of nepotism and cronyism, billions were being set aside to erect a monument to the incandescent magnificence of Moon.

      The president now says he did not order the library to be built and the project may never go ahead. Let us hope that is true.

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