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Controversy over Statistics Heating Up in S. Korea
Concerns Raised over Political Abuse of Statistics
Controversy over Statistics Heating Up in S. Korea
  • By Jung Suk-yee
  • August 29, 2018, 10:01
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Former Statistics Korea Commissioner Hwang Soo-kyung makes a farewell speech on August 27, in which she said that she did her best to prevent statistics from becoming a political tool.

Controversy surrounding the South Korean government’s income-led growth policy is transforming into statistical disputes, triggered by replacement of the commissioner of Statistics Korea. Deputy Prime Minister Kim Dong-yeon said at the Special Committee on Budget & Accounts of the National Assembly that Statistics Korea is not an organization to make a statistical error and the ongoing controversy is attributable to different interpretations.

Despite his remarks, opposition parties and economic experts are claiming that the failure of the policy is evidenced by the latest economic statistics. “The commissioner should not have been replaced in that trust is the very core of statistics,” said University of Seoul economics professor Yoon Chang-hyun, pointing out that doubts will continue down the road even if results buttressing the government’s policy come out.

In the meantime, new commissioner Kang Shin-wook said on August 27 that his organization will repay policy efforts with reliable statistical data. Some interpreted the remark as his will to support the policy with his resources and the matter has been compounded. “In appointing the previous commissioner last year, the Blue House said she was the right person to support the income-led growth policy as a reform-minded economist, but she had to resign in just 13 months and people know the reason why,” said Liberty Korea Party lawmaker Joo Ho-young, continuing, “A political abuse of national statistical data will result in a national economic fiasco and distrust in the government.”

Under the circumstances, some Statistics Korea staff members mentioned on August 28 that the Blue House and their agency have shown different opinions on how to interpret economic indices since the minimum wage adjustment announcement on July 14.

The agency released an industrial activity index on July 31, a consumer price index on August 1, an employment index for July on August 17, population-related data on August 22, and household-related data for the second quarter on August 23. Most of the data were contrary to the government’s claim that economic conditions were getting better. Some of the staff members thought that the government’s interpretation might affect the independence of their agency and expressed their concerns at a meeting with previous commissioner Hwang Soo-kyung. However, she placated them, saying there might be a reason for the interpretation.

Another staff member mentioned that the previous commissioner had no problem at all with her officials and rumors about her lack of ability are false. Blue House spokesperson Kim Eui-kyum said on August 27 that the Moon Jae-in administration neither interferes with Statistics Korea’s activities nor affects its independence.