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Moon administration cut special activity spending by 40%: finance minister

Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae (left) and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl (Yonhap)
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae (left) and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl (Yonhap)

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said Tuesday the incumbent government has drastically cut its special expenses in the past four years, following the main opposition party’s demand for a comprehensive review on such kind of funds spent by government bodies.

“The size of special activity funds has been reduced by 40.5 percent in the past four years since the current administration was launched,” Hong said during a meeting of the special committee on Budget and Accounts held at the National Assembly. He didn’t provide the exact amount the government spent.

He said Cheong Wa Dae and the Office of the President as well as other ministries have undergone “revolutionary” reductions to their expenditures.

Lawmakers of the main opposition People Power Party requested the minister find ways to bring transparency for the budget system regarding special activity funds.

Special expenses are extraordinary expenses incurred in connection with confidential work-related responsibilities or official functions. As it requires no proof of usage, the funds have often come under criticism for being used for personal reasons by government officials.

“Because payments incurred during investigation activities and counterintelligence work cannot be paid by credit or debit cards, it is necessary to maintain the special expenses as an item of expenditure,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the opposition party said some 1 trillion won ($896 million), including 18.1 billion won for Cheong Wa Dae, has been proposed to be set aside in next year’s budget for government offices in the name of special activity funds, and pledged to pay extra attention on the spending category during budget examination process.

The controversy over special activity funds has been ignited after the ruling Democratic Party of Korea lawmakers asserted that Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl had used special expenses allocated to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office for his political fund during a standing committee meeting that Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae attended Thursday. The minister said she acknowledged the speculation.

Choo directed the top prosecutors’ office on Friday to submit the details of the payment and allocation of special expenses for itself and other lower prosecution offices.

On Monday, the ruling and opposition lawmakers on the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, for their part, carried out an inspection into spending records of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office and the Justice Ministry. They found no meaningful results.

Failing to find evidence to support the accusation that Yoon misused the fund during the inspection, the ruling party lawmakers blamed the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office for disclosing only a small portion of the accounting records.

“The data submitted by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office is not even 20 percent of the total we asked for. … This inspection cannot end the controversy (on Yoon’s special expenses),” said Rep. Song Ki-hun of the ruling party, who took part in Monday’s inspection.

By Park Han-na (