Tough going for nominee
On May 6, Lee replaced five ministers in a shuffle prompted by the ruling Grand National Party’s rout in last month’s by-elections. Claiming that all five nominees were unfit, corrupt figures, the opposition Democratic Party has vowed to question them harshly at confirmation hearings to force them to drop out.
Suh Kyu-yong, named to head the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, faced a confirmation hearing yesterday and the Democrats grilled him over the suspicion that he had unlawfully received government subsidies for rice farming. Tax evasion and illegal transfer of wealth to his son were also alleged.
The DP said Suh had unlawfully received a total of nearly 600,000 won ($546) of rice farming subsidies from the government in 2007 and 2008, although he had not actually farmed his land in Cheongju, North Chungcheong.
The DP also claimed that Suh had evaded the capital gains tax when he later sold the land by falsely claiming that he had actually farmed the rice paddies. The capital gains tax is exempted for those who actually farm their properties.
Suh denied both allegations, claiming that he had actually farmed the land on weekends and holidays with the help of his brother. Suh’s residence is in Seoul.
He also said the rice paddies were farmed for more than eight years, including the time that his father had worked there, rejecting the DP’s accusations.
The lawmakers from both ruling and opposition parties, however, were not easygoing with Suh.
“It is problematic that you had created the program when you were serving the ministry and later received it through a process that lacks transparency,” GNP lawmaker Kang Suk-ho said. The rice farming subsidy program was introduced when Suh was serving as the vice minister of agriculture in 2002.
Representative Ryu Keun-chan of the Liberty Forward Party also condemned Suh for having insulted 500,000 farmers by abusing the policy and receiving money by visiting the farm as if it were a weekend leisure activity.
“I had received the subsidy legitimately but I realized that I should have made a more prudent judgment,” Suh then said.
The rice farming subsidy system has been abused by many high-income earners of urban cities including ranking public servants, politicians, state-run company executives and journalists who own rural land but do not actually farm the rice paddies on their own. After Lee’s vice minister for health and welfare, Lee Bong-hwa, resigned over the scandal, a massive investigation took place in 2008 to reveal those who have lined their pockets with the money intended to support low-income farmers.
The DP also accused Suh of evading the gift tax when he provided 270 million won to his son for a jeonse housing deposit.
The confirmation hearing of Suh was the first in a series of sessions that will take place this week, where four more minister nominees will be questioned.
The hearings are also considered as the first exam of the political capabilities of DP’s new floor leader Kim Jin-pyo. Under the leadership of his predecessor, Park Jie-won, the Democrats had successfully blocked some minister-designates of President Lee to assume the posts by uncovering skeletons in their closets.
Since the launch of the Lee administration, eight of Lee’s nominees for top government posts have failed to pass the confirmation hearings.
“I cannot understand why all minister designates of the Lee administration are all marred with corruption scandals,” Kim said Sunday, criticizing the president’s personnel appointment style. “It is the DP’s goal to recall all five minister nominees. If they don’t bow out, the people will recall the Lee government.”
By Ser Myo-ja [email@example.com]
한글 관련 기사 [연합]
농림장관 내정자 청문회…쌀직불금 공방
5ㆍ6 개각에 따른 국회 인사청문회 첫 날인 23일 여야는 서규용 농림수산식품부장관 내정자를 상대로 집중적인 인사검증을 벌였다.
국회 농림수산식품위의 이날 인사청문회에서는 서 내정자의 쌀소득보전직불금 수령 의혹을 놓고 여야 의원들의 추궁이 이어졌다.
서 내정자는 지난 2007-2008년 농경지를 직접 경작하지 않으면서도 정부로부터 직불금을 수령했다는 의혹을 받고 있으나 서 내정자는 "형의 도움을 받아 직접 벼농사를 지었다"며 의혹을 부인하고 있다.
한나라당 강석호 의원은 청문회에 앞서 연합뉴스와의 통화에서 "과거 최고 실무자로서 위법적으로 직불금을 받았다는 것에 문제가 많다"면서 "직불금을 받은 것이 투명하지 않다"고 문제를 제기했다.
민주당 김영록 의원도 "서 내정자 본인은 농사를 지었다고 하지만 상식적으로 제대로 지었겠느냐. 주민등록만 옮기고 한 두번 농사를 지었다고 하면 직불금을 받을 수 있는 것 아니냐"고 따져물었다.
자유선진당 류근찬 의원도 "직불금 제도를 직접 만든 후보자가 주말농장 가듯 농사를 지으면서 이를 수령한 것은 도덕적 자질결핍"이라면서 사과를 요구했다.
이외에도 서 내정자가 농촌진흥청장과 농림부 차관 재직시 지인이 운영하는 사료첨가물 회사가 정부 연구비를 지원받을수 있도록 편의를 봐줬다는 의혹과 그가 상속받은 농지 일부를 매도하는 과정에서 양도소득세를 감면받았다는 의혹도 제기됐다.
국회는 서 내정자에 이어 24일 유영숙 환경부 장관 내정자, 25일 박재완 기획재정부 장관 내정자와 박병대 대법관 후보자, 26일 이채필 고용노동부 장관ㆍ권도엽 국토부 장관 내정자에 대한 인사청문회를 실시한다.