[EDITORIALS]Are Lame Ducks Digging for Dirt?

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[EDITORIALS]Are Lame Ducks Digging for Dirt?

The investigation into the private lives of prominent public officials being waged by the Kim administration makes us feel somewhat ill at ease. Officials claim that the probe, aimed mainly at ministers and vice-ministers, is nothing unusual, but it goes beyond a check of managerial skills and work performance and delves into their private lives: reputation, relations with women, personalities and drinking habits. It is more discomfting to learn that it involves checks of their friendships with politicians and relations with the media. The investigation can only be seen as a measure to keep the ministers from deserting the lame-duck president.

Every ruling camp has long contended that such probes are indispensable to keep public servants on edge. That is somewhat understandable; public service is festering with inertia, lack of restructuring and a tendency to cater to the whims of their superiors. Toward the end of a presidential term, it is common among bureaucrats, especially those in senior jobs, to try to guess who will take office in the next elections and take side with the most likely contenders.

But it would be naive to label such a probe as simply playing a trump card in order to hang on to power as long as possible. This check could involve massive invasions of privacy, and reminds us of fault-finding investigations resorted to by past regimes. That is a poor way of managing the civil service. "Relations with the media" and "publicity records," which are included in the checklist, make us suspect a connection with the recent media tax probes. If there is an underlying dissatisfaction among those in power along the lines of "while the government is running smoothly, public relations are lacking," then bureaucrats will pay more attention to publicity than to getting their work done.

Civil servants should be instilled with a sense of responsibility toward their work, and digging into their private lives is not the way to do so. Damaging their honor will not help, and public servants have in the past countered such probes with their own trump card - intransigence. Distrust bloomed between the administration and the bureaucracy. The authorities should keep those traps in mind.
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