An unsuitable candidateAnother controversial nominee for Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister appears at a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly today. In a nutshell, he is not qualified to serve as the minister. As head of the Seoul Housing & Communities Corporation (SH) in 2016, Byeon Chang-heum, 55, disrespected the tragic death of a contract worker, who was hit by an approaching train while fixing a platform door in a Seoul subway station. Byeon blamed the teenager for triggering outrage at poor work conditions in Seoul Metro. As CEO of the Seoul-owned corporation, he went so far as to hire 18 people who shared his own school background.
Even the Justice Party threatened not to approve Byeon’s nomination along with a number of pro-government civic groups, who have asked President Moon Jae-in to withdraw his nomination. Rep. Sim Sang-jung, former head of the progressive party, expressed rage at his nomination in a rare departure from the party’s defense of nominees.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. As president of the state-owned Korea Land and Housing Corporation (KH) later, Byeon commissioned a nearly 8-billion-won ($7.2 million) research project to an academic society where he served as a standing member of the board. His selection of this particular group for a large-scale government project is unprecedented. More importantly, Byeon purchased an apartment in Gangnam district through a 60 percent loan-to-value (LTV) mortgage despite his accentuation of the expansion of public rents as a major tool for the government’s real estate policy — and regardless of his emphasis on curbing capital gains from real estate deals. Such a stunning contradiction can make him a laughing stock among the public.
His biggest problem is his unflincing denial of the wisdom of the free market. In a written answer to questions from lawmakers ahead of the hearing, the nominee reiterated his insistence on raising property taxes to prevent speculation. He is convinced of “positive effects” of the controversial three Tenants Laws, which continue fueling the rise in jeonse and monthly rent prices. That’s not all. He adheres to the position that the government must put the brakes on redevelopment of available spaces in Seoul for fear of capital gains from real estate deals. The nominee also attributes skyrocketing real estate prices to deregulation and low interest rates under the Park Geun-hye administration.
We seriously wonder what will happen if he takes the helm of the government’s real estate policy. Even a colossal revamp of the 24 sets of failed real estate measures can hardly help stabilize our real estate market. To make matters worse, Rep. Jin Sung-joon, a ruling party lawmaker, proposed a revision to the Basic Housing Act to enforce “one home per household.” That’s a denial of private ownership. We will be headed into abysmal chaos if Jeon is appointed land minister.