A recent audit of the presidential office may look unusual, but the Board of Audit and Inspection just carried out its responsibilities. It should be able to keep doing so.
Last week the board announced the results of an audit and revealed that presidential committees had paid illegal salaries to President Moon Jae-in’s close associates.
The Presidential Committee for Balanced National Development paid Song Jae-ho 4 million won ($3,400) in “advisory fees” each month from January 2019 to January this year -- just like a salary. Song headed the committee during that time frame and received a total of 52 million won in advisory fees.
The committee broke regulations that ban paying regular advisory fees to nonpermanent members of presidential committees as if they were salaried staff. The committee chair position is a nonpermanent post.
In 2017 Song chaired an advisory panel for Moon’s presidential campaign. He ran successfully in the April 15 general election and became a lawmaker for the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.
The committee has not paid fees regularly to Song’s successor.
The Presidential Committee on Job Creation also paid 6.28 million won in “rewards for cooperation with a state project” to Lee Yong-seop, a nonpermanent vice chairman, each month from June 2017 to February 2018. It paid 6.41 million won to his successor, Lee Mok-hee, each month from April 2018 to February 2020.
Lee Yong-seop, currently the mayor of Gwangju, and Lee Mok-ee, a former lawmaker, worked respectively on Moon’s 2017 and 2012 presidential campaigns.
The committee has not paid regular rewards to its current vice chairman.
The Economic, Social and Labor Council has so far paid about 6 million won each month to its current Chairperson Moon Sung-hyun since August 2017, though there is no related pay regulation.
Moon co-chaired a panel within the 2017 Presidential Election Committee of the Democratic Party of Korea.
The rewards came from taxpayers’ money, which they took inexpediently.
The government auditor also raised issues with a special committee for public communication formed by the Presidential Committee for Balanced National Development.
Noting that the special committee had met just twice since its launch in January 2018, the board told the presidential committee to “eliminate it or stop running it perfunctorily.”
The board inspected four major presidential committees for the first time since the Moon administration was launched. Presidential committees have been the subject of constant controversy regarding how they operate and whether some are needed at all. The board needs to check 15 minor presidential committees.
In the latest inspection, it also found that the presidential secretariat had broken the law on government contracts in the process of outsourcing the production of a video celebrating Children’s Day on May 5.
The secretariat received the film and paid for it before, not after, signing the contract. The board cautioned Moon’s chief of staff about this.
When it comes to complying with regulations, Cheong Wa Dae should lead other government agencies by example.
If the board had neglected its duty, the people would not have known that Moon’s close associates took taxpayers’ money inexpediently or that Cheong Wa Dae worked by rule of thumb.
The board fulfilled its duty of auditing tax expenditures and inspecting the job performance of public servants.
Though it appears under the president on the organizational chart, it is an independent constitutional agency. Cheong Wa Dae is not exempt from auditing.
The board emphasized that there were no political motives behind its recent inspection of the presidential committees. It brought problems to light because they existed.
Uncovering irregularities related to the presidential office should not be looked on from a partisan viewpoint.
Prosecutors who investigated allegations involving Moon’s close aides all suffered a disadvantage in the latest reshuffles.
If the board shares the fate of the prosecution, few agencies will likely be left to check the power of the presidential office.
The board should be able to inspect Cheong Wa Dae, no matter who occupies the presidential office and no matter who heads the board.