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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 20)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:13 May 20, 2021

Special housing supply
Strict investigation needed to dig into irregularities

The Customs Valuation and Classification Institute (CVNCI), under the Korea Customs Service (KCS), has gotten flak for having constructed a new building in Sejong City without getting permission from the relevant authorities. Worse still, its 49 employees inappropriately bought apartments under the "special housing supply" rule, which has become the target of criticism for giving privileges to civil servants. The building cost 17.1 billion won ($14.25 million) from the state budget for completion, but it has remained vacant as the CVNCI was not allowed to move into it.

The employees earned a huge amount of profit as the prices of the apartments surged after they bought them. This project should not have been undertaken by a state organization; and so we call for a strict investigation of the case and stern punishment for those found responsible.

According to data released by Rep. Kwon Young-se of the conservative main opposition People Power Party, the CVNCI sought to build the new building in Sejoing City in 2015, citing an increased number of workers and workload. But the plan faced a setback, as the organization was not required to relocate to Sejong, according to an order from the Ministry of the Interior and Safety (MOIS) in 2005.

The CVNCI claims that it was not aware of this order. But this lack of awareness also shows that its officials failed to check basic regulations, as it is open for anyone to access. The Ministry of Economy and Finance earmarked the budget for the "illegal" project while the National Agency for Administrative City Construction (NAACC) designated the CVNCI as an organization eligible for the special supply of housing.

The CVNCI pressed for the construction of the four-story building despite opposition from the MOIS. The relevant authorities are passing the buck in order to deflect responsibility. The KCS said it consulted with the finance ministry and the NAACC concerning the project. The construction agency said that it did not oppose the project, since the CVNCI had secured both the budget and endorsement from the National Assembly.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum asked for an investigation into the case Wednesday to look for possible irregularities, including the legal grounds for a possible cancellation of the special housing supply granted to the CVNCI employees. Allegations are growing that many more civil servants, not just the CVNCI officials, have inappropriately benefitted from the special housing supply program without moving to live in Sejong City.

Speculation is rising that the KCS lobbied Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea to push for the construction of the project. The government should begin a full-fledged probe into the case to prevent any such recurrence. This recent case is all the more perplexing as it comes after the cases of land speculation by officials of the state-run Korea Land and Housing Corp. (LH), using inside information.

The CVNCI has further undermined the people's trust in the government. The Moon Jae-in administration has been pushing anti-speculation real estate policies as a priority goal. Yet, how on earth can these gain momentum when civil servants are engaged in illicit, if not illegal speculative behavior?

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