Powers-that-be's properties continue to embarrass
The ruling party and the Moon Jae-in administration persist in taking heat as its lawmakers and top government officials continue to hold onto lucrative real estate in Seoul — contrary to the president's policy.
The Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ), a liberal civic group, on Tuesday held a press conference and denounced the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party (DP), pressuring its lawmakers to keep their promises to sell homes they are not currently living in.
It said 42 of the 180 politicians who ran in the April general elections as candidates of the DP and its satellite Citizen Party own two or more residences. The two parties merged after the election, and the DP currently has 176 lawmakers.
According to the CCEJ, 21 of the DP lawmakers own multiple homes inside areas designated by the government as speculative or overheated.
“Our lawmakers will not use homes as a means to increase wealth,” said Rep. Lee In-young, floor leader of the DP at the time, in December last year. Following his declaration, the DP made its candidates for the April general elections sign an agreement on Jan. 20 ensuring that they would sell residences other than the ones they were actually living in.
“When the DP made the promise, we demanded that the promise be implemented immediately,” said Seo Hui-won, a senior member of the CCEJ. “We asked the DP on June 3 to tell us how many of them actually followed through, and it replied that it had no records because the promise was made by the former floor leader.
“We sent another inquiry to Secretary General Yun Ho-jung and new floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon on June 19, but they have not replied,” Seo continued.
As of Tuesday, the DP had not confirmed who followed through with the promise.
“Over the past three years since the DP became the ruling party, the average price of an apartment in Seoul went up by 52 percent,” said Kim Heon-dong, a leader of the CCEJ’s real estate reform program. “We want to ask what the ruling party has done during the three years.”
The government has released 21 sets of measures to cool the real estate market, including the latest one on June 17, but they did little to curb prices in Seoul and other popular areas. The policy is mainly focused on implementing tighter mortgage regulations and heavier taxes for multiple homeowners.
Outrage at Moon's inner circle peaked last week, when Presidential Chief of Staff Noh Young-min decided to keep his home in Banpo District of Seoul and sell a second home in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, where he was elected three times as a lawmaker. The decision was made as he forced a dozen senior presidential aides who owned more than one residence to keep one and sell the rest as soon as possible.
As Moon’s approval rating dropped below the 50-percent mark, the DP is scrambling to assuage public anger. Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon, the party's current floor leader, told JTBC Monday evening that the party will make sure its lawmakers keep their promises and convert to single homeowners.
Kim said the candidates promised to sell their second homes within two years of elections. “Because the [two-year] period is not satisfying the people, we are looking for a way to hasten it,” he said.
Kim said the party is currently collecting data on who owns how many homes. “We will make a judgment once the survey is done,” he said.
Kim also spoke critically about Noh’s decision to sell the Cheongju apartment while holding onto his property in Banpo. “I think it was a controversial decision when you look at the issue from the ordinary person’s perspective,” he said.
Rep. Kim Nam-kuk of the DP made a stronger criticism of Noh on Tuesday. “I think he should apologize to the people of his constituency,” Kim said in an interview with MBC. “It was really an inappropriate action.”
He said a policy debate should take place to address the real estate investments of senior public servants. “The public is skeptical about the will of the government and political parties to stabilize real estate prices because top officials and lawmakers are multiple homeowners,” he said. “This time, we have to clear up the doubt once and for all. There can be no ruling party or opposition party on this issue.”
Kim said the DP is conducting a survey of all real estate properties owned by its lawmakers. “In principle, it is clear that all lawmakers must sell their second homes,” he said. “And the party will decide when the deadline will be.”
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]