Go to contents

[Opinion] Costly Official Residences

Posted June. 16, 2006 03:08,   


“Godaegwangsil,” an idiom that means a big and magnificent house, does not have a good ulterior meaning; it has a nuance that is somewhat cynical. This is the case even for a private residence for which one spends his or her own money. The public has ill feelings toward those who spend money in extravagantly decorating their houses. For government buildings or official residences where taxpayers’ money is spent, it is no wonder that the greater and higher they are built, the more criticism they come under.

In 1972, then-president Park Jung-hee visited a presidential villa on Jeodo Island, Jinhae, South Gyeongsang Province during his summer vacation. He had ordered workers to “repair the wooden building so that he could sleep there.” When he arrived, however, he saw a new house standing in front of him. He called the head of the presidential security service, scolded him for “getting rid of the house that he ordered to repair and building a new house,” and said he would pack his belongings and go back to Cheong Wa Dae. He must have done so because he believed taxpayers’ money should never be squandered. The situation was settled after his aides managed to persuade him not to.

Under the Chun Doo-hwan administration, there were official residences called “local Cheong Wa Dae.” Governors’ official residences were so big and spacious that they looked more like palaces. Though it was taken into account that the president might stay there sometime, they would not have been built that way under the Park Jung-hee administration. The buildings, eventually, ended up being the target of investigations into irregularities committed under the Chun Doo-hwan administration. Even today, these official residences are still under public criticism. Half of the official residences in 16 cities and provinces have been removed or used for public purposes, but the heads of eight cities and provinces are still using them. Moreover, hundreds of millions of won are being spent to repair them for new mayors and governors elected in the recent local elections.

Controversies still remain that too much money is being spent on official residences. A city government, for example, was severely criticized for pumping 180 billion won—more than two thirds of its annual local tax revenues—into the municipal government building. The Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) had to announce that it would give a disadvantage to those who newly build or enlarge local government buildings or official residences.

The National Assembly, which oversees government administration, recently replaced intact tiles and lamps while spending 600 million won to get new tables and chairs. Even the members of the National Assembly, who would use them, lamented it was a “squandering of taxpayers’ money.” Would they spend the money that way if it were theirs? It seems that the people are still their easy prey.

Kim Chung-sik, Editorial Writer, skim@donga.com