Moon will pay for groceries, pet food, out of his own pocket

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Moon will pay for groceries, pet food, out of his own pocket

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President Moon Jae-in presides over a senior secretariat meeting in the Blue House on Thursday. [YONHAP]

President Moon Jae-in has decided he will not use the Blue House budget to pay for his private expenses, including groceries for his wife and himself and even food for his pets.

“From now on, meals that are not parts of official meetings will be paid from the president’s own money,” said Lee Joung-do, general affairs secretary of the Blue House. “We will stop using the state budget to pay for meals and personal purchases of the presidential family. It is the president’s strong will to clearly distinguish what should be paid with tax money and what should not.”

Until now, money from the special expenses account of the Blue House was used to pay the living expense of the president and his family. Lee said Moon’s decision will save a considerable amount.

Special expenses accounts exist for almost all government ministries for activities that require confidentiality. Because no receipts are required, the accounts are often used for non-official purposes.

Although the Blue House did not make a comparison, the move appeared to be the latest in a series of actions taken by Moon to differentiate himself from predecessor Park Geun-hye.

A minor part of the presidential abuse of power and corruption scandal that led to Park’s impeachment and removal involved a personal health trainer she hired as a presidential secretary. Park used the special expenses account to pay for her clothes and beauty treatments. She saved most of her annual salary of 210 million won ($187,835).

According to Lee, 16.2 billion won was allocated to the special expense account of the Blue House this year. As of now, 12.7 billion won remains, and Moon wants to save 5.3 billion won to use for job creation for the young and programs for needy people.

Lee said the secretariat will create stricter standards for the special expense account and ask for a smaller amount starting next year. “We will request a 5 billion won cut in next year’s budget,” Lee said.

Moon made clear his intention at a senior secretariat meeting. “It is appropriate that I pay for the things that can be clearly identified as personal, such as food for me and my wife and pet food for my dog and cat,” Moon was quoted as saying by his spokesman, Park Soo-hyun.

The senior secretariat meeting was also held in a more casual manner, a departure from Park’s stiff way of hosting meetings with secretaries and ministers. A round table was used, and Moon poured his own coffee before the discussion began. Most of the participants were tie-less.

Moon asked his aides to freely express their opinions and not hesitate to challenge his orders. “Unless we have a debate without reservations here, we will never have a chance,” Moon said. “The senior secretariat meeting is the first opportunity to right a wrong direction. When everyone remains silent, a wrong order will be made. Challenging the president’s order is not an option, but a duty.”

Moon also said he won’t mind if his secretaries fail to reach a consensus and disagreements were later reported. He asked all aides to speak freely and candidly without prejudice so that the president will get all information.

He also ordered the secretaries never to write down what he says during the meeting. “You just have to concentrate on discussion,” Moon said, adding that he will operate the cabinet meetings in the same way.

During the Park presidency, secretariat and cabinet meetings were extremely rigid. She read a lengthy opening statement, often containing orders, and ministers and presidential secretaries spent most of their time writing them down.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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