Faced with the recent large-scale missing rebar scandal, LH President Hanjun Lee held an emergency meeting at the company’s Seoul regional headquarters in early August to apologize to the public and announce measures to eradicate construction cartels. Lee said “We sincerely apologize for the unfortunate incident that occurred at LH Apartments, which should be the safest place for people to live. We will take high-intensity measures with the determination that there will be no future for LH if we fail to properly establish construction safety and dispel suspicions of favoritism in the entire process of LH construction, including design and supervision.” Meanwhile, the Land Owners and Residents Solidarity for Public Housing Development is proactive in finding and reporting any malpractices on land development. On the morning of August 8, the Solidarity released its “Position on LH’s Rebar-less Apartment Order” at its office in Bundang, Seongnam, Gyeonggi-do. The position paper calls for a review of the policy of forced evictions of indigenous peoples and the dismantling of LH, stating that apartments with missing rebar are a crime against the people. The position paper also calls for just land compensation for indigenous peoples and improvements to administrative issues related to this. Monthly PowerKorea hosted a meeting with them and learned their arguments and the problems of LH’s bad practices.
Host: How do you see the current issues on LH’s bad practices?
Im: It seems like only yesterday that LH dumped land in Siheung Gwangmyeong District, which is scheduled to be the 3rd new city in 2021, and caused public outrage, but now they are colluding with a group of thieves who steal rebar, threatening the lives and safety of the people. LH is committing these criminal acts by stealing homes and farmland from unwilling landowners in the name of public service. As LH no longer has a raison d’être as a public company, there is no other option but to disband it, and the land acquisition policy should be completely revisited.
Gong: In this case, LH retirees were heavily represented in the design, construction, and supervision, where they turned a blind eye to the constructors. The LH Corporation, which is trying to recreate the nightmarish Sampung Department Store collapse 30 years ago, deserves to be dismantled.
Lee: There are serious operational deficiencies that may violate people’s property rights, which should be corrected immediately, but they continue to look the other way. Some specialized appraisals, such as survey appraisals and aerial photo reading appraisals, are assigned to only one party, the LH or the contractor, leading to very unfair appraisal results. This inhibits fair compensation and incorrectly impacts compensation calculations.
Host: What is the problem and role of the Central Land Expropriation Committee?
Kim: If there is no agreement between the project implementer and the landowner on the expropriation and use of the land, the project implementer may apply to the committee for reconsideration, and the committee shall hear the application case in accordance with the procedure prescribed by law and make a reconsideration. In other words, the Commission must make efforts to minimize the infringement of the rights of landowners, etc., whose land is inevitably expropriated for public utility purposes, while promoting the efficient performance of public utilities.
Im: The committee should ensure the independence and impartiality of the appraisal through objective and transparent selection of the expert appraiser. The appraisers for land values are selected directly by the Commission through a transparent process in accordance with the Guidelines for Selection and Recommendation of Appraisers. However, it is not uncommon for some specialized appraisals, such as survey appraisals and aerial photo readings, to show very unfair appraisal results by entrusting the appraisal to the project implementer, resulting in serious infringement of the public’s property rights.
Gong: If one party selects the appraiser, the independence and impartiality of the appraisal can never be guaranteed. In fact, there can be a difference of two to three times or more in the area between an aerial photo reading by the concessionaire and a court-appointed appraiser at the litigation stage, even though the land is the same. Therefore, the system should be reformed to ensure that the committee uses a transparent and fair process for selecting expert witnesses.
Lee: There are rules that are subject to review by the committee: 1. the percentage increase in assessed value for each individual is 20% or more, with an increase of KRW 30 million or more; or 2. the percentage increase in assessed value for each individual is 5% or more, but less than 20%, with an increase of KRW 50 million or more. If the appraisal is subject to review by the expert review team, the appraiser is obliged to attend and submit documents, which places a significant burden on the review. Therefore, it is inevitable that the appraisal price will be limited within the above criteria, rather than the appraisal result based on independence and fairness. By doing so, the committee is effectively intervening in the appraisal. More troubling is the arbitrariness of the Commission’s calculation of the percentage and amount of the increase under consideration, without any legal basis or standard. Therefore, the above rules should be removed.
Kim: Article 45 of the Administrative Appeals Act, paragraph (1), states, “The decision shall be made within 60 days from the date the respondent or the Commission receives the petition for review pursuant to Article 23. However, if there are unavoidable circumstances, the Chairperson may extend the period by 30 days ex officio. In practice, however, the Commission often does not reopen a case until four to six months, and sometimes more than a year, after receiving a motion to reopen. As a result, landowners who receive compensation and need to relocate or make a living from it will suffer unforeseen and devastating consequences. Therefore, the Commission should set realistic timeframes for resolving these violations and ensure compliance with internal guidelines to prevent landowners from suffering injustice.
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