August 06, 2020 14:09
The government double-dealing that most upset Koreans over the last seven months is the issue of multiple homes owned by top presidential aides. Cheong Wa Dae Chief of Staff Noh Young-min told high-ranking presidential aides last December to sell their homes and keep just one. Since then, those words have resurfaced practically every month to bite the presidential office where it hurts most. After public criticism mounted, Cheong Wa Dae officials lashed out at the news media, accusing them of casting a bad light on presidential aides who had already promised to sell their high-end properties. Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Yoon Do-han told reporters last week that he had not bothered to correct each media report even though "many were inaccurate." So how come no fewer than eight senior Cheong Wa Dae secretaries still own multiple homes?
This farce was predicted back in December. The instruction to sell multiple homes was timed with the government's first spate of measures on Dec. 16 to tame soaring real estate prices. Cheong Wa Dae then set a six-month deadline for senior presidential secretaries to sell their multiple homes, but the standard for exceptions -- "circumstances beyond control" -- was vague, to say the least, and most of them did not sell their spare homes before the deadline. Some expressed discontent at the chief of staff's orders or refused to be interviewed by reporters.
Cheong Wa Dae's response was also a mess. It said on July 2 that Noh himself would sell his apartment in the affluent Banpo neighborhood of southern Seoul, only to correct itself 45 minutes later to say he intended instead to sell another apartment he owns somewhere else, which is worth a lot less. Noh had to apologize to the public on July 6 and vowed to sell the Banpo apartment after all, and the Cheong Wa Dae spokesman even offered to quit due to the faux pas.
All the while the presidential office kept a keen eye on public sentiment. When it described Noh's expensive Banpo apartment, it went to great lengths to underscore how small it is. Last month, it also excluded from its list of multiple homes any studio flats in the capital that are not strictly counted as apartments but still fetch a handsome profit due to soaring property values in the capital. A month later, a Cheong Wa Dae official flatly denied that this had taken place.
The public became increasingly furious as they watched this farce. They after all had never asked for the officials to sell their apartment, merely for the presidential office to be as good as its word. Cheong Wa Dae held its own staff to an impossibly high standard to "set an example" and predictably had to row backwards. The government and ruling party have labeled multiple home owners not merely real-estate speculators but criminals. Yet Cheong Wa Dae is filled with such people, and the public's patience is running out. Before pointing fingers at the news media, it must take a long hard look in the mirror.
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com