The Korea Herald


[Editorial] No shaking basis of policy

Board audits suspicions of statistics being distorted under the Moon administration

By Korea Herald

Published : Dec. 20, 2022 - 05:30

    • Link copied

The Board of Audit and Inspection is speeding up its audit of allegations that important national statistics were distorted under the Moon Jae-in administration.

The audit of the national statistics system started in September. The board called in Statistics Korea officials for investigation, followed by its two ex-commissioners under Moon -- Hwang Soo-kyung and her successor Kang Shin-wook. The audit seems to be near its end.

Hong Jang-pyo, Moon's former senior secretary on economic affairs known as an architect of his administration's "income-led growth" policy, is expected to be investigated directly by the board sooner or later to look into whether Moon's Cheong Wa Dae was involved in the alleged distortion of statistics.

The point of the audit is two-pronged: Whether key statistics on income, employment and housing prices were intentionally distorted and whether the Cheong Wa Dae was involved in the process.

As a matter of fact, the previous administration was often caught up in controversy as to whether national statistics were tampered with. Especially statistics on housing prices, income and employment were far from how people felt in the market.

Suspicions of statistics manipulation came to the surface when Hwang, the first commissioner of Statistics Korea to be appointed by Moon, was replaced abruptly in August 2018, just 13 months after taking office.

She was replaced after announcing household survey data that income distribution index got worse under the income-led growth policy, which seeks to drive an economic growth mostly by increasing the income of the low-income bracket.

At that time, Moon overturned the survey results of Statistics Korea, saying that a sharp hike in the minimum wage and the income-led growth policy had a 90 percent positive effect.

Sample size and research methods were changed after a change of Statistics Korea commissioner. Then, the household income distribution index sometimes showed improvement. The proportion of the low-income group earning less 2 million won ($1,530) a month decreased from 18.2 percent in 2018 to 14.8 percent in the first half of 2019. This sudden decrease of the low-income group in less than a year was less convincing. Critics raised questions about the statistics.

The board is said to have done a digital forensic analysis of desktop computers used by employees of Statistics Korea and found that then Cheong Wa Dae officials had asked them to include or exclude certain content from household survey data or press releases. Some of their requests are said to have been reflected in announced statistics.

The board also reportedly identified circumstances where the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport under Moon distorted data on purpose, for example by extracting intentionally biased samples or entering arbitrary figures, when it investigated real estate price trends.

In July 2020, when housing prices soared, Kim Hyun-mi, then-Land Minister said, mentioning the Korea Real Estate Board, that housing prices rose just 11 percent in Seoul for three years since the launch of the Moon administration. However, the number was way too far from a civic group's immediate rebuttal that Seoul apartment prices soared 53 percent. The group cited widely used housing price data. However, the ministry refused to disclose what its statistics were based on.

It is likely that the Moon administration tried to hide its real estate policy failure behind false statistics while housing prices were skyrocketing.

As for employment, statistics were openly window-dressed. Publicly funded part-time jobs were counted as employed.

Important national statistics must be accurate and reliable because they offer the basis of judgment when the government makes policies. If a policy is made on the basis of faulty statistics, eventually the people will suffer damage.

It may be possible in a communist dictatorship or in underdeveloped countries to manipulate national statistics to stay in power. But shaking the foundation of government policies is unimaginable in normal democracies.

The board must bare the whole picture about the suspicions, and those found responsible must be punished. The national statistics system must be fixed to prevent any government from tampering with data again.