President Yoon Suk-yeol on Friday ordered the government to scrap a contentious plan to build a state guest house at the new presidential compound.
Earlier in the day, the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) slammed the government for requesting a massive budget for the project, saying the administration is squandering taxpayers' money on the unnecessary presidential office relocation.
"After returning Cheong Wa Dae to the people, we tried to prepare a facility for state events, befitting national dignity, as the nation's future asset, not the presidential office's property. It is disappointing that the government failed to fully explain this purpose," Yoon was quoted as saying by Kim Eun-hye, senior presidential secretary for public affairs.
Yoon ordered the cancellation of the project to make sure it does not cause concern to the people, she added.
The DP said the government had requested a more than 87.8 billion won (US$62 million) in funding for the construction, much more than the 49.6 billion won that the government had originally said would be necessary to move the presidential office out of Cheong Wa Dae.
DP floor leader Rep. Park Hong-geun said it is wrong to spend such a large amount of money at a time when ordinary people are struggling with economic hardships, and the party, which controls the National Assembly with 169 out of 299 seats, will cut all of the requested budget.
"The presidential office has once again deceived the people suffering from economic hardships," Park said.
Park also urged President Yoon issue a public apology for "lying" to the people about the relocation cost.
DP Chairman Lee Jae-myung also said he was surprised to learn of the budget.
"As we have a parliamentary majority, it is our obligation to make sure that a budget, which runs counter to people's beliefs, will not pass," he said, adding that the requested budget could be used to dole out 10 million won each to about 10,000 flood victims.
Rep. Park Chan-dae, one of the party's Supreme Council members, also said it would be better for the government to move back into Cheong Wa Dae.
The presidential office hit back, saying the construction of a new state guest house is "partly inevitable" considering the country's national interest and the need for an appropriate space to receive foreign and local dignitaries.
"If we build a state guest house, it won't belong to the Yoon Suk-yeol government," a presidential official told reporters. "It will remain as the state guest house of the government of the Republic of Korea for a long period of time."
The official called on the National Assembly to look at the matter with a long-term perspective, noting that hosting state events at museums, convention centers and hotels incurred additional security costs and caused inconveniences to the public.
The official also rejected accusations that the presidential office lied about the relocation cost, saying the cost of building a state guest house is separate from the cost of moving the presidential office. (Yonhap)