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Moon tinkers with public land idea in charter

Mar 22,2018
The Blue House unveiled Wednesday President Moon Jae-in’s desire to clarify the public concept of land in the Constitution and deepen the economic democracy to reduce the wealth gap.

Cho Kuk, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, announced the second part of Moon’s constitutional amendment bill in a live press conference. Proposed changes unveiled on Tuesday concerned basic rights and changes to the preamble.

“The parts I am announcing today are about the future of the country, so it is very important,” Cho said.

According to Cho, Moon’s amendments will reinforce the concepts of economic democracy and the public concept of land, both of which are already cited in the Constitution.

“A widening wealth gap, generational transfers of poverty and the collapse of the middle class are blocking economic growth and national unity,” Cho said. “Unless we resolve those issues, the future of the country will be dark.”

The current Constitution promotes the public concept of land, a principle that the land shall be used in line with the public welfare and regulated properly by the state, based on Articles 23 and 122, Cho said, but there are no specific stipulations. Laws that were created in the past to enforce the concept, therefore, were either ruled unconstitutional or are facing criticism, Cho said.

“In order to resolve the worsening problems of social inequality, the public concept of land will be stipulated in the Constitution to allow the state to limit or assign a duty when necessary to guarantee a public and reasonable use of land,” Cho said.

Since the democratization of Korea in 1987, three laws were established during the Roh Tae-woo administration to enforce the public concept of land. Two laws - the Act on the Upper Limit of Housing Site Ownership and the Land Excess Profit Tax Act - were repealed in 1998. But the Restitution of Development Gains Act remains with several revisions.

If Moon’s bill is approved by the legislature and the general public in a national referendum, the two abolished laws may be resurrected. A law governing a property ownership tax can also be introduced.

According to Cho, the current Constitution also calls for economic democratization through the harmony of main agents in the economy. Moon wants to add the term “mutual prosperity.” The change, if realized, would likely give greater power to the Fair Trade Commission.

According to Cho, Moon is also pushing for changes in the Constitution to strengthen the autonomy of local governments. Cho said Moon has shown worries about economic growth centered in Seoul and the capital region and wants more balanced development of the country.

In the bill, Moon proposed stronger administrative authority for local governments. He plans to add a clause in the preamble to stipulate that the country promotes local autonomy.

Local governments will be given power to decide their own organizational structures and operational systems.

One of the key changes is a guarantee of fiscal autonomy for local governments. Local governments will pay for administrative expenses of their own policies, while the central government will not force policies down their throats. Local governments will also set their own regulations on local taxes.

In order to strengthen communication between the central government and regional governments, a national autonomy meeting as powerful as a cabinet meeting will be institutionalized. The president will chair the meeting and the prime minister will serve as vice chairman.

In the Constitution’s general provisions, Moon wants a clause defining the nation’s capital city, and possibly relocating the capital city.

Moon’s political mentor, President Roh Moo-hyun, attempted to relocate the nation’s capital from Seoul to the Chungcheong region during his presidency, but the attempt was struck down by the Constitutional Court in 2004, when it declared that Seoul is the constitutional capital, even if it was unwritten.

“Local autonomy, decentralization and correcting injustice and unfairness are the people’s demands and the spirit of the time,” Cho said, adding that all presidential candidates made pledges to amend the Constitution during the May 2017 election campaign.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) protested Moon’s plan, particularly the idea of defining the public concept of land in the Constitution. “It is a declaration of abandoning a free market economy,” said Rep. Jun Hee-kyung, spokeswoman of the LKP. “It is shocking to rediscover that the Moon administration is prompting socialism, not liberal democracy and a market economy.”

As Moon is pushing forward his amendment plan with a timeline to submit the bill on Monday and hold a national referendum on June 13, the LKP asked other opposition parties to form an alliance to present their own road map. Rep. Kim Sung-tae, floor leader of the LKP, proposed that the four opposition parties begin discussions next week unconditionally.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]