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Pres. Lee to Donate Assets of $26 Mln to Society

Posted July. 07, 2009 08:22,   


President Lee Myung-bak yesterday announced the setup of a foundation with his personal assets of 33.1 billion won (26 million dollars), keeping his campaign pledge made before the 2007 presidential election.

“A house for my wife and I is enough for me, and except that, I will donate all of my wealth,” he said. “My mother sowed the seeds of this thought. I thank my mother in heaven and feel proud for keeping my promise with her.”

If and how the president will implement his donation has attracted public attention. A source from the foundation’s preparatory committee said, “When news of the foundation came, people came up with different ideas. Even ethnic Korean residents in the United States also asked us to use the money for Koreans living abroad.”

The presidential office said President Lee is the first incumbent head of state to donate most of his wealth during the term of office.

○ Pledge made in 1995

Twelve days before the Dec. 19, 2007 presidential election, he promised to donate his wealth to Korean society. A week after being cleared in the BBK stock fraud scandal, he announced his proposed move on KBS but first spoke of it in 1995.

In his book “There Is No Such Thing as a Myth,” he explained how he amassed his wealth – his house and property in Seoul - and said he and his wife will not hand down their wealth to their children.

President Lee said in a July 2007 hearing during the Grand National Party primaries, “I don’t think my little achievement (wealth) is just mine. I’m grateful to society for giving me the opportunity for achievement, and I think I must give back my achievements to society."

In a radio address in December last year, he said, “I’m considering what is the best place to use the money. I expect solutions to come out soon.”

Former Justice Minister Song Jeong-ho, who chairs the preparatory committee for the foundation, said, “Setting up a scholarship foundation reflects President Lee’s belief that he can stop generational poverty.” This is in line with his recent interest in low-income households.

○ Scholarships from year’s second half

Song said the foundation will be set up early next month and will decide the beneficiaries as early as possible according to internal rules and principles. Since the donation is property, the foundation is likely to use one billion won (790,000 dollars) – money except for maintenance fees - for scholarships and welfare projects for youths. The beneficiaries are likely to be primary and secondary school students.

The money will also be likely used for high school tuition and meals for elementary and secondary students. Around 1,000 people are expected to each get a benefit of one million won (790 dollars).

It is too early, however, to guess the scope and the target of beneficiaries because the benefits could be given differently depending on individuals. Given the month needed to establish a foundation and the designation of beneficiaries as soon as possible, benefits will likely go out in the second half of this year.

○ Foundation’s name

President Lee is said to have chosen the name of the foundation. A ruling Grand National Party source said, “When Song suggested four names, Lee chose `Cheonggye.` That’s how the foundation was named.”

In addition to President Lee’s pen name “Cheonggye,” Song proposed “Taewon (the president’s mother),” another of the chief executive’s pen names “Ilsong,” and “Myeongyoon,” a combination of the presidential couple’s first names.

“Cheonggye” was named by Jin Hak-jong, a famous calligrapher known for the cursive style. The brother of the late former Prime Minister Jin Eui-jong gave Lee the name "Cheonggye” before Lee started the restoration of Seoul’s Cheonggye Stream as mayor. Since then, Lee has often used the pen name.

Since “Cheonggye” is not easy to pronounce for foreigners and difficult to explain the meaning, the English name of the foundation will be The Lee Myung-bak and Kim Yoon-ok Foundation, or the Lee and Kim Foundation for short.