The ruling Democratic Party of Korea is shaking the chairman of Board of Audit and Inspection.
The board is in the last stretch of its inspection of Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power’s decision to retire Unit 1 of the Wolsong nuclear power plant prior to the expiration of its operating license in 2022. It is expected to release the results of the inspection next month.
Rep. Song Gab-seok of the party claimed in the National Assembly on July 23 that Choe had said in a board meeting on April 9: “It is less convincing to argue that the nuclear phase-out policy is supported by national consensus, because the current government was launched with 41 percent of the vote in the presidential election.”
Former Minister of Trade, Industry and Commerce Baek Woon-kyu, who attended the auditor’s meeting, backed up Song’s account in an interview with a local newspaper on July 27 that Choe made the remark.
Baek also claimed that regarding Moon’s avowal to close Wolsong Unit 1 as early as possible, Choe made comments such as, “The president did what KHNP CEO should do” and “Should we do whatever the president asks us to do?”
But Choe clarified his controversial remarks. “Baek said in the meeting that Moon’s election pledge to close Wolsong Unit 1 was backed by national consensus. Then I asked him if it is convincing to argue so only because the policy was a campaign pledge,” Choe said.
Lawmakers of the ruling party kept criticizing Choe Wednesday, with Rep. Shin Dong-kun urging him to resign if he disagrees with the Moon administration. Fourteen environmental groups chipped in, calling for Choe to step down. They argued that he may have already concluded that the KHNP decision was wrong and that he has been piecing the board’s inspection together under the predetermined conclusion.
The blunt pressure on Choe seems intended to prevent the board from releasing a report that would blemish Moon’s nuclear phase-out policy.
The board is probing issues, including whether there was an external influence upon the decision to retire the unit early despite the costly 700 billion won ($586 million) worth maintenance work carried out on it, and whether the economic viability of the unit was underestimated.
Choe reportedly refused to recommend a figure favored by Cheong Wa Dae as for a position on the board that has been vacant since April. Choe is said to have cited concerns about bias. Cheong Wa Dae neither confirmed nor denied the report, but noted that it has the authority to appoint board members.
The state auditor is a constitutional institution whose chairman’s opinions should be respected when it comes to the lineup of its members.
When President Moon appointed Choe to lead the board, he praised the former judge as the right person to protect the independence and political neutrality of the agency.
But as the board is said to be playing it by the book in inspecting the KHNP decision, the ruling party started to express dissatisfaction and became outspoken in criticizing him.
The party’s pressure on him looks similar to the case of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. The party is pressuring Yoon after he became an object of hatred among the ruling bloc for probing those on their side, despite its initial praise of him.
Nominally, the Constitution places the board under the presidential control but the Board of Audit and Inspection Act guarantees the independence of the board from the President as far as its duties are concerned. Under the act, its independence covers personnel and budget matters as well as business.
A group of about 250 professors from 61 universities issued a statement Monday, demanding that the ruling party and the government stop pressuring Choe.
The board has an obligation to conduct an inspection independently and impartially and announce the result as is. The ruling camp must stop shaking the board.