S. Korean audit agency takes aim at Moon-era policies, prompting objections of bias

Posted on : 2022-08-24 17:40 KST Modified on : 2022-08-24 17:40 KST
The opposition Democratic Party has come out highly critical of the audits, which it views as political
Choe Jae-hae, the chair of the Board of Audit and Inspection, delivers an administrative report to the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee on Aug. 22. (Yonhap News)
Choe Jae-hae, the chair of the Board of Audit and Inspection, delivers an administrative report to the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee on Aug. 22. (Yonhap News)

The Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) is gearing up for a focused audit this fall targeting key policies implemented by the Moon Jae-in administration, including its new and renewable energy projects and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

The situation appears poised to fuel questions of the BAI’s “political bias,” which have been raging in the wake of its audits of the Korea Communications Commission and the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission shortly after the Yoon Suk-yeol administration took office.

At an inspection committee meeting Tuesday, the BAI finalized inspection plans for the second half of the year that included “outcome audits” and “special case audits” of the delayed introduction of COVID-19 vaccines and pursuit of new and renewable energy projects during the Moon administration.

While the BAI normally shares its audit plans on its website, it took the unusual step Tuesday of issuing a separate press release. In it, it announced its plans to “conduct an audit that analyzes the administration’s infectious disease response and suggests alternatives in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused massive social and economic losses.”

The BAI plans to audit the infectious disease response systems of the Ministry of Health and Welfare and Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, among others. This means it intends to focus on the management and supply of vaccines and disease prevention items for healthcare as it looks into accusations of delays in the vaccines’ introduction, which the now-ruling People Power Party stoked during the Moon administration.

In a possible gesture of concern over the audit triggering criticism if it goes ahead at a time when COVID-19 infections are spreading rapidly, the BAI also said that “areas may be treated as prospective audit subjects depending on the COVID-19 situation, including the implementation of support efforts for crisis-affected households.”

A “special case audit” will also be taking place for new and renewable energy projects, which were one of the Moon administration’s chief focuses.

The BAI’s original plan was reportedly to audit all of the Moon administration’s carbon neutrality policies, including its post-nuclear power and new and renewable energy projects.

But sources said it made the decision to focus on new and renewable energies such as solar power after it was concluded that it would be “impossible to look at all of the energy transition policies, in light of the workforce requirements and the extent of related duties.”

The BAI previously conducted a 2020 audit on the energy transition roadmap and formulation of various plans. In March 2021, it released its findings, concluding that there had been “no procedural issues.”

For that reason, many observers are saying that the decision to hold another audit on new and renewable energies is meant effectively to target nuclear power phase-out policies in particular.

Also drawing attention was the inclusion of a first institutional audit of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) in the plan for the second half of the year.

The BAI normally avoids auditing newly established institutions for at least two years in order to give them time to establish themselves. The CIO marks the second anniversary of its launch next January.

While campaigning, Yoon denounced Article 24 of the CIO Act — which gives the CIO exclusive authority to investigate crimes by high-ranking officials — as a “toxic provision” that he pledged to abolish.

Last month, the CIO assigned a case to its first investigation division involving accusations of Improper Solicitation and Graft Act violations submitted by the group Citizens’ Action to Establish Judicial Justice against Yoon, first lady Kim Keon-hee, and People Power Party floor leader Kweon Seong-dong in connection with hiring practices.

Opposition parties denounced the BAI’s plan for investigating major Moon administration-era policies as a “politicized audit.”

“Rather than upholding its independence and neutrality, the BAI is embarking on an audit as an act of political retaliation,” said Democratic Party spokesperson Shin Hyun-young.

“BAI Chair Choe Jae-hae spoke before about the BAI being an ‘institution to support the government,’ and now it appears to be willingly taking on the role of a tool for assisting the Yoon Suk-yeol administration,” she added.

By Jung In-hwan, staff reporter; Um Ji-won, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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