A controversial nominee againCandidates for ministerial posts undergo confirmation hearings this week. The highlight will be the one on Land Minister nominee Byeon Chang-heum. A hearing on Byeon was expected to be focused on the failures in the past housing policies and fresh measures under a new minister. But the slew of reports on him suggest the hearing may turn into a heated debate on his ethical standards.
Comments he made as president of the Seoul Housing & Communities Corp. (SH) under the Seoul Metropolitan Government, in 2016 shed a different light on the scholarly figure who had championed a social housing program for the poorer class. While ordering a public housing program, he said, “Poor people should cook at home and are crazy to eat outside” and “Tenants would gang up to demand parking spaces if we allow tenants with cars.”
After a young contract worker died while fixing a platform door in Guui Station on the Seoul subway, he said, “If he [the deceased] had been more careful, the city [Seoul administration] would not have to go through such hassle.” Such attitudes cannot meet President Moon Jae-in’s political slogan of putting “people first.”
The nominee is also accused of aiding solar panel business for a former activist and giving out senior jobs at SH to his acquaintances and friends. While criticizing wealth building through properties, he bought an apartment in Gangnam in southern Seoul, through mortgage.
The Blue House once again has been slack in screening candidates. The result is unsurprising as it entirely digs into a narrow pool of liberal figures. Byeon has been a fan of Moon’s policies, claiming current real estate measures are better than those in the past conservative governments. Byeon accompanied Moon on his tour of a public apartment even though he has not gone through a confirmation hearing. The market has already lost hope for any change in the real estate measures under a new minister.
Byeon is not the sole flaw in recent appointments made out of a restricted pool of talent. Vice Justice Minister Lee Yong-gu was hurriedly recruited even though he had been implicated in an altercation with a taxi driver in early November so that he could oversee a disciplinary hearing on Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. If Moon sticks to candidates with questionable morality, credibility of his government will be undermined. The Blue House and ruling party must address these allegations.