Abolishing free official residences

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Abolishing free official residences

Local government heads newly elected from the June 1 elections are surrendering their rights to free official residences. Governors Kim Young-hwan of North Chungcheong, Kim Tae-heum of South Chungcheong, and Park Wan-soo of South Gyeongsang all decided not to move into their governor residence in order to “save on taxes for local residents.” They found their own homes near their offices and offered to use the saved funds to support young people instead.

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon who has started his fourth term after the recent local elections had passed the mayoral residence after winning a by-election last year and will continue to live in his own home during the remainder of the new term. The Seoul municipal government had rented a 660-square-meter (7,104-square-foot) official residence in Jongno District, central Seoul, with a lump-sum lease of 2.8 billion won ($2.2 million).

Providing an extravagant home for local government heads is an outdated legacy, but the extravagance has continued for 27 years. Not just governors and mayors, but also district heads and education superintendents are given a free residence that has to be renovated when new figures move in.

The tax waste also continues with the central government and judiciary branch. Former foreign ministers Kang Kyung-wha and Chung Eui-yong used 950 million won and 320 million to renovate their residence when they moved in. Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-soo’s residence was renovated for 1.6 billion won. Even his son’s family lived there for 15 months after they won a spot in an apartment in Gangnam District, southern Seoul. Former President Moon Jae-in’s daughter also lived with her parents at the Blue House for more than a year. The living cost remains sealed for national security reasons.

After the case was reported by the JoongAng Ilbo last April, President Yoon Suk-yeol’s transition committee vowed to do away with those extravagant public residences for senior government officials. Amid criticism on lavish homes using the tax budget, local government heads are willingly surrendering the privilege.

In advanced countries, only state leaders are provided with tax-financed residences. In the United States, the president and vice president live in state-provided official residences. In Japan, the prime minister and chief justice of the top court are provided with their residences. In Korea, the president and other heads of the government, defense minister and other military heads are given a free residence.

If government heads need to host important events, they can use public sites like the Blair House, the presidential guest house in Washington. The Blue House opened to the public after President Yoon moved his office. The showy and authoritarian legacy must end. A law to prevent moral hazard of abusing public residence for personal use should be enacted.
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