[EDITORIALS]A screening process fails

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[EDITORIALS]A screening process fails

Chang Sang failed to get the word "?esignate" off her new title as prime minister. She failed to survive two days of grilling in confirmation hearings and a vote Wednesday by the National Assembly. It was largely because she failed to extricate herself from what had become a quagmire of questions about her ethics and integrity. The vote showed that there were Millennium Democratic Party members who voted against her. It would have been difficult for them and others to ignore the disapproval by the public of Ms. Chang's character.

The rejection marks the end of what could have been a meaningful test of having the first female prime minister in the republic. The rejection derailed President Kim Dae-jung's plan to save his tarnished image and recover some political power late in his administration's term. The development is a tremendous blow to the president who had already lost considerable integrity after the debacles involving his sons. But the Assembly's vote means more than that; the failure to win a confirmation also highlights the importance of prudence on the part of nominating officials, and a command of the state affairs and ethical standards on the part of the nominee. Those are factors that can be learned and improved upon, but they add to the increasing turmoil in party politics and to the friction within the MDP.

Ms. Chang's setback is for the most part of her own making. She was not able to clear up the lingering doubts about the key issues at the hearings -- the suspicious address changes, questions of real estate speculation, the background of her son's dual citizenship and the potentially inappropriate benefits drawn from a public health insurance plan. When she tried to defer responsibility over to her mother-in-law and her secretary, it was difficult for her to avoid criticism that she was trying to deflect responsibility. What was originally thought to be an error on her academic credentials turned into possible perjury. In the end, unanswered questions about her honesty, integrity and qualifications all came out as a veto of her nomination.

The responsibility for the negative vote itself is in the president and his aides. The fact that the question of inappropriate address changes were raised for the first time during the hearings shows that the Blue House failed to screen a candidate adequately. The administration was basking in the historical appraisal of the first female prime minister, all the while neglecting the job of evaluating its choice.

Ms. Chang's failure to get through the process also reminded the public service that, as she said, the job of high government officials must always entail high ethical standards and strict self-discipline. The process set a good precedent that those with faults in terms of money, experience and their surroundings must think twice about entering public service. The confirmation hearing can be regarded as a significant step in public service reform, just as the financial disclosure of public officials introduced during the former administration was. The process also raised the standard of ethics in politics. The Grand National Party candidate for president, Lee Hoi-chang, likely realizes that he must manage himself better.

No doubt President Kim will need time to recover, and it will not be easy to find a replacement. But it is important for him to look upon a confirmation hearing as a must-do task in his remaining term. He will no doubt be more thorough in checking the next candidate's background.
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