A stealthy plan for a new guest house

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A stealthy plan for a new guest house

The presidential office has canceled a project to build a new guest house for foreign VIPs with a budget of 87.9 billion won ($63 million) upon public disapproval. Given the hardship in the economy, the presidential office should have tapped public consensus first. Few would approve of the idea of spending so much tax money to build a new presidential guest house when the government has promised fiscal tightening amid a hard economy under high interest rates, inflation and dollar exchange rate.

The process has been dubious, too. It is unclear who came up with the idea and pursued it. A new guest house may have been needed after President Yoon Suk-yeol decided to use the Ministry of National Defense building as his presidential office instead of the Blue House as in the past. Since Yoon regularly meets the press, he should have explained the plan and sought public opinion. The project was included in the budget for national property fund for next year, submitted by the Ministry of Economy and Finance. The president and most of his senior secretaries are said to have been unaware of the project.

How the project requiring a budget nearly twice the 49.6 billion won the government earmarked for the relocation of the presidential office was included in the budget for next year without any prior notice is beyond understanding. The presidential office explained that it wanted to build a new guest house because of the rise of security costs and inconvenience for the public after the presidential office was relocated to Yongsan. But such concerns were already raised when Yoon proclaimed the relocation.

There are no large-scale presidential guest houses in the U.S. and other advanced countries. Official dinners for Yoon’s inauguration and U.S. President Joe Biden took place at Hotel Shilla and the National Museum of Korea, respectively. Why the idea suddenly came up is baffling. Yoon hurriedly scrapped the idea upon controversy. Since a taped record during the campaign revealed his wife had wished to move the guest house, how the project had been pursued should be clarified.

The controversy is yet another amateurish move under the Yoon Suk-yeol administration. It had to fold one controversial policy after another, including the idea of lowering the school starting age to five. A series of stumbles could suggest a presidential office not fully doing its role as a government policy command. Policies must be made based on public consensus through communications. The president must demonstrate reliable leadership to gain public confidence for any push in state affairs.
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