Yoon's move is financed, but will be delayed
The spending was approved in an extraordinary Cabinet meeting presided over by Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, who said the government relief funds were allocated to ensure a "smooth government transition without a security vacuum."
The funds cover 11.6 billion won for setting up essential security facilities including a crisis management center; 11.8 billion won for moving the Defense Ministry; 10.1 billion won for refurbishing general offices and setting up computer systems; and 2.5 billion won for remodeling the current Army chief of staff's accommodation in Hannam-dong as the new presidential residence.
Yoon's transition team had initially suggested it would cost 49.6 billion won to relocate the presidential office to the Defense Ministry compound in Yongsan District, central Seoul. Yoon plans to move the presidential office into the main Defense Ministry building, while the ministry will be relocated to other buildings and facilities in the compound.
Reserve funds are usually kept aside for natural disasters and other emergencies and their use require Cabinet approval.
The Ministry of the Interior and Safety contributed 17.6 billion won to the reserve fund for the move, the Ministry of National Defense 11.8 billion won and the Presidential Security Service 6.6 billion won.
The reserve fund approval came a day after President Moon Jae-in ordered his Cabinet to swiftly agree to a budget for Yoon's relocation plan.
Moon, while not formally opposed to the relocation, has said that a "security vacuum" could result from rushing a move by the start of Yoon's five-year term on May 10.
However, in the first meeting between the outgoing and incoming presidents on March 28, Moon said that his government would cooperate on a budget for the relocation.
Kim said in the Cabinet meeting Wednesday that the issue of relocating the presidential office is a decision for the incoming government, and added, "In a situation in which the president-elect's intentions are clear, it is merely a matter of timing and there is no choice but to proceed [with the plan]."
Kim added, "North Korea's recent military movements are unusual. We are also in a situation where we need to carry out military exercises with the United States successfully."
He continued, "In such a serious security situation in which the crisis on the Korean Peninsula is bound to escalate, the relocation of the president's office should be carried out under a meticulous plan without any security vacuum."
The government said the 13.6 billion won difference between the approved amount and Yoon's proposed budget factors in an upcoming military exercise between Seoul and Washington, which will delay parts of the move. The Defense Ministry's command units and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) are expected to remain in their current locations until the conclusion of the military exercise which runs from April 18 to 28.
Yoon's office, the secretariat, press room, spokesperson's office, conference rooms and security services will be located on the first to fourth floors of the 10-story Defense Ministry main building. Work on these four floors will not be possible until after the Korea-U.S. military exercise ends.
The government said more funds needed for the relocation will be discussed later. The approved budget does not include the cost of remodeling Yoon's presidential office or the relocation of the Presidential Security Service.
Thus, it is unlikely that the remodeling and move will be completed in time for Yoon's inauguration on May 10.
Yoon's spokesperson Bae Hyun-jin said in a press briefing Wednesday, "Because of the time that has been spent so far, it will be impossible to move the presidential office exactly on May 10, and [the relocation] is expected to take place some time after that."
She added that lower-level discussions for the relocation of the president office "will continue to be conducted in earnest."
The relocation is expected to take over a month, which could mean that Yoon may not be able to move into his new Yongsan presidential office until June at the earliest.
Yoon's aides said the president-elect will continue to work from the transition team's office in Tongui-dong, central Seoul, until preparations are completed. However, there have been concerns over the security of that building, which has large, unfortified windows, and limited size. Yoon is expected to commute from his residence in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul, for the time being.
Yoon has been adamant about not moving into the Blue House, which he seems as a symbol of "imperialistic" power. He plans to bring the presidential office closer to the people in Yongsan and then open up the Blue House compound as a park or museum.
The approval of the moving budget is the beginning of the end of the Blue House era, which dates back 74 years.
The current name for the presidential office, "Cheongwadae," or the Blue House, will no longer be used after the move. Yoon's transition team said it will decide on a new name for the presidential office in a public contest.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]