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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 3)

All News 07:02 August 03, 2022

Top auditor's gaffe
Absurd remark casts doubt over watchdog's neutrality

"The Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) is an agency that supports the president's conduct of state affairs." That surprising remark came from BAI Chair Choe Jae-hae during his administrative report at the National Assembly last Friday. The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea wasted no time demanding Choe's resignation, saying, "The BAI head admitted his agency's support for political retaliation." Even Rep. Kim Do-heup of the governing People Power Party, who chairs the Assembly's Legislation and Judiciary Committee, said, "The remark made me doubt my ears."

Choe's comment is hard to dismiss as a mere slip of the tongue, as it raised questions about the BAI's top two priorities ― independence and political neutrality. Clause 1, Article 2 of the Board of Audit and Inspection Act says, "The BAI shall belong to the president but shall have an independent position concerning its duties." The nation's top watchdog audits the state's revenue and expenditure settlements and inspects government employees' performance of duties. If needed, the BAI can ― and should ― check the president's administrative acts.

So, it's a shame that Choe, who has worked at the BAI for nearly three decades and must know its role better than anyone else, reduced the agency to a supporting organ of the chief executive. Choe's inappropriate remark cannot help but adversely affect the BAI's work. The agency is now conducting audits of various agencies, including the Anti-Corruption & Civil Rights Commission and the Korea Communications Commission. Coincidentally or not, the heads of these agencies have caused friction with the Yoon Suk-yeol administration by refusing to step down despite the change in political power.

All of this shows why the opposition party's accusation of the BAI's "targeted auditing" doesn't just sound like a political offensive. The BAI was also embroiled in controversy several times under the former Moon Jae-in administration over "biased and easygoing" audits and nepotistic personnel appointments. Suppose the agency or its head causes any more controversies. In that case, it will neither be good for the BAI itself nor help the new government. Choe's role is not to support the government but to protect the BAI from external pressure. The watchdog must defend its independence and neutrality on its own. The BAI head's taking extra care of his every word and action ought to be the first step to attaining it.

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