SEOUL, April 25 (Korea Bizwire) – The controversial coin-operated washing machines in the South Korean military that charge soldiers 1,000 won ($0.90) per load of laundry became one of the key talking points during the third presidential TV debate, which aired on KBS last Sunday.
As the South Korean military failed to install enough washing machines for soldiers fulfilling their mandatory military service, coin-operated washing machines run by private enterprises were deployed as a temporary measure on a number of army bases, prompting Justice Party candidate Shim Sang-jung to bring up the issue on national television.
The South Korean military originally planned to introduce some 35,000 washing machines by last year, which means one washing machine was allotted to every 20 soldiers or so.
However, the military was still 3,000 washing machines short as of April this year.
Further complicating the issue, 500 won coins, which are used to operate the washing machines, are rarely seen on base, as cash can’t be used at post exchanges. To many soldiers, this means they have to face the hassle of securing 16 to 20 coins every time they have a visitor or go on vacation.
To use a dryer requires two additional 500 won coins.
South Korean soldiers have to cough up around 8,000 won out of their own pockets every month to wash their clothes with the coin-operated washing machines twice a week.
Given the extremely low monthly compensation for conscripted South Korean army soldiers, ranging from 163,000 won to 216,000 won per month, extra spending on necessities such as laundry can be a burden on the shoulders of those who spend around two years in the prime of their young lives serving in the military to protect their country.
In response to the growing criticism sparked during the latest presidential debate, the Ministry of National Defense said, “Our original plan to install one washing machine for every 20 soldiers will be accomplished this year.
“After the contracts for the existing coin-operated washing machines end, we will not renew any agreements with private enterprises,” the ministry assured its critics.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)