Cabinet approves initial funds for presidential office relocation
SEOUL-- The Cabinet on Wednesday approved 36 billion won (US$29.5 million) in reserve government funds for President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol's plan to relocate the presidential office.
The spending was approved in an extraordinary Cabinet meeting presided over by Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, a day after President Moon Jae-in ordered the swift approval of the relocation budget.
Kim said the approval was made in the context of cooperation for a "smooth government transition without a security vacuum" amid the heightening situation on the Korean Peninsula.
"In any case, there should never be even a small gap in defense posture," he said. "North Korea's recent military moves are ominous. We are also in a situation where we need to carry out military exercises with the United States successfully."
The higher tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalate, the more carefully the presidential office relocation should be pushed for, Kim said, noting that the project also involves relocating the defense ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Yoon has been pushing to move the presidential office out of Cheong Wa Dae and into the defense ministry compound in Yongsan, central Seoul, saying the relocation would help him connect better with the people.
Moon's office had initially expressed concern that a hurried relocation could leave a security vacuum, but Moon later said he would cooperate after carefully examining the project.
The initial budget is less than the amount that Yoon's side has sought for.
Yoon earlier estimated the relocation cost to be around 49.6 billion won, including 11.8 billion won for moving the defense ministry to the Joint Chiefs of Staff building in the same compound, 25.2 billion won for remodeling the defense ministry building into the presidential office, 9.9 billion won for moving the office of the presidential security service and 2.5 billion won for remodeling the official residence of the Army chief of staff into the presidential residence.
The initial budget will first cover 11.6 billion won for establishing essential security facilities like the national crisis management center, 11.8 billion won for moving the defense ministry, 10.1 billion won for setting up general offices and 2.5 billion won for remodeling the official residence of the Army chief of staff.
The government said further spending needed for the relocation will be discussed later in consideration of upcoming South Korea-U.S. military exercises and the construction situation of security-related facilities.
The passage of the reserve funds will quicken the pace of the relocation work, but officials said it appears to be virtually impossible to complete the office relocation before Yoon's inauguration on May 10 as the Cabinet approval came nearly two weeks later than expected.
"We expect the relocation to be completed in June," an official close to Yoon's team told Yonhap News Agency on the phone. "If the approval of funds came on March 22 as planned, we would have been in the remodeling phase by now."
Yoon has vowed to never move into Cheong Wa Dae, calling it a "symbol of imperial power."
If the relocation is not completed by his inauguration, Yoon's side earlier said he will continue to work from the transition team's office.
Source: Yonhap News Agency