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[Editorial] Deceit of the nation

Audit finds the Moon government manipulated economic statistics

By Korea Herald

Published : Sept. 19, 2023 - 05:30

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The manipulation of economic statistics by the Moon Jae-in administration, disclosed by the Board of Audit and Inspection last week after a six-month probe, is astonishing.

The audit agency found that the Moon administration had persistently and widely manipulated government statistics on real estate prices, national income and employment to hide its policy failures.

The board asked the prosecution to investigate 22 former Moon government officials on suspicion of leading the statistics manipulation. They include all four top presidential policy aides of Moon's presidency, a former land minister and a former Statistics Korea commissioner.

In fact, in the days of the Moon regime, economic statistics were often criticized for failing to reflect the reality properly. The probe found there was a reason for it.

When a Statistics Korea commissioner, who was dismissed apparently for being uncooperative with higher-ups' demands for the submission of statistics before an announcement, said in a farewell speech, "I was a person of the kind who does not readily obey people above me." And when her successor said, "I will reward the government by providing good statistics," the public's reasonable doubt of statistics manipulation was amplified. Just like many suspected, Statistics Korea churned out numbers palatable to the regime by using strange tricks.

The manipulation was blunt and wide-ranging and lasted throughout the five-year Moon presidency. Manipulation was the severest in the field of real estate prices.

Cheong Wa Dae, or the presidential office, and the Land Ministry had the Korea Real Estate Board submit statistics on weekly housing prices before releasing them to the media and pressured the board to manipulate some numbers in order to make government policies look effective.

The Statistics Law, revised in 2016, bans the exercise of power in the process of compiling statistical data and the provision or leak of statistics before an announcement. The revised law was proposed by the former land minister whom the audit agency asked the prosecution to investigate, when she was a legislator.

According to the audit results, such unjust pressure on the real estate board occurred 94 times from June 2017 to November 2021.

If the weekly rate of change in housing prices rose from the previous week, Cheong Wa Dae and the ministry told the board to conduct a field inspection or submit proofs. With too much stress caused by pressure from the outside, the board is said to have skipped price inspections and reported arbitrarily estimated numbers. It was found to have done so for 70 weeks from February 2019 to June 2020. The board asked the ministry a total of 12 times not to ask for the submission of illegal prior reports, but the ministry ignored all the requests.

After June 2019 when Seoul housing prices began to bounce, the ministry is said to have turned up the heat on the board, threatening to "remove the board and its budget." The board was pushed to the extent of creating statistics.

So government statistics were agreeable to the palate of those in power. Seoul housing prices jumped 62.20 percent over the five years of the Moon administration, according to statistics compiled by a real estate platform of KB Kookmin Bank, but according to the real estate board, they rose 19.46 percent, much lower than the private-sector number.

The Moon administration also manipulated income, income distribution and employment statistics to conceal the failure of its signature "income-led growth policy."

When household income data, closely watched by Cheong Wa Dae at that time, turned downward in the second quarter of 2017, Statistics Korea was found to have manipulated them. It gave arbitrary weight to the income of households with an employed person.

When the number of nonregular workers jumped after the minimum wage rose two years in a row, Cheong Wa Dae demanded Statistics Korea lie and say that its questionnaire had a fallacy which caused the overestimation.

Government statistics are basic data needed to formulate polices and verify their effects. Statistics manipulation is deceit of the nation and ruins the country like window-dressing leads companies to bankruptcy. The prosecution must probe the case to the very bottom and those found guilty must be severely punished. The government must set up a system to make statistics tamper-proof.