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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 7)

Editorials from Korean dailies 06:59 December 07, 2020

Disappointing Cabinet reshuffle
President cannot regain credibility without policy shift

President Moon Jae-in conducted a Cabinet reshuffle Friday, announcing four nominees for the land, health, gender equality and interior ministers. The shake-up is aimed at regaining his administration's lost credibility. But it is unlikely to meet the people's calls for drastic changes in the government's ill-conceived policies, especially for stabilizing the overheated housing market.

Most notable is Moon's decision to replace Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee, who has come under severe criticism for failing to curb skyrocketing housing prices and rents. The President picked Byeon Chang-heum, CEO of the Korea Land and Housing Corp. (LH), as Kim's successor. Byeon, a former professor specializing in urban planning and urban renewal, is recognized as a housing expert. He took the lead in supplying more public rental housing in Seoul when he was head of the Seoul Housing and Communities Corp. (SH) from 2014 to 2017.

Yet, it is doubtful if Byeon can introduce policies much different from those of Kim, who has served as land minister since Moon's inauguration in 2017. Kim has so far taken 24 sets of anti-speculation measures to cool the overheated market. But the measures have yet to produce the intended results, making it ever more difficult for people to buy a home or find rental housing at affordable prices.

Switching the minister, but nothing else, cannot solve the problem. It is hard to expect much change as long as the presidential office, not the land ministry, continues to take the lead in working out major policies. The Moon government is likely to stick to its policy of tightening regulations and raising taxes to bring property speculation under control. Such a policy cannot work because it ignores market principles based on supply and demand.

It is no exaggeration to call the policy a total failure. Apartment prices in Seoul have surged 58 percent over the past three years, despite the 24 sets of measures. Rents in particular have skyrocketed since a controversial law was enacted in July to extend the two-year rental contract period to another two years. The law is adding fuel to the fire, despite its aim of protecting tenants.

We call on the Moon administration to allow the nominee ― if he becomes minister ― to map out market-friendly measures to help the people ease their pains arising from runaway housing prices. The Cabinet reshuffle is meaningless without any palpable change in policy.

The shake-up came amid Moon's tumbling approval rating, which fell below 40 percent for the first time since his inauguration. The plunge is attributable to his bungled property policy and a feud between Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl over the former's attempt to block the latter from investigating the inner circle of the political elite for corruption. It is regrettable that Moon has no intention of replacing Choo with a new figure who can restore public trust in law enforcement and the rule of law.

The presidential office is reportedly considering another reshuffle around February before the April mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan. We hope that Moon picks new ministers for foreign affairs and the economy to cope with the power transition in the U.S. and speed up the recovery of the coronavirus-hit economy. Once again, we call for a significant policy change to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic and deal with the rapidly changing geopolitical situation on the Korean Peninsula.
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