[OUTLOOK]Panel exposed flawed process

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[OUTLOOK]Panel exposed flawed process

Demonstrating public administrative skills while adhering to a strict code of morality is difficult. History is replete with leaders who were strong administrators and others who were highly praised for their ethics. Former President Bill Clinton of the United States showed serious moral shortcomings, but even his political enemies had to acknowledge that he was exceptional in his administrative abilities. He won a second term despite several personal scandals and led the country into a long period of economic prosperity.

Jimmy Carter, also a former U.S. president, was just the opposite. He had the morality of a preacher but turned out to be a disappointing leader. During his term, the American economy fell into deep recession and his efforts to rescue the U.S. hostages in Iran resulted in failure after failure.

To which of the two categories did prime minister nominee Chang Sang belong? Apparently, although difficult to say for sure, President Kim Dae-jung did not choose her for her strength in public administrative skills. All in all, it seems Ms. Chang was chosen for high moral standards. Her profile shows experience as the president of a big university and adviser to several government agencies, but she had no experience as a public official nor had she held political office.

Academics are not free of corruption; a university is still respected as an ivory tower of intellect. To have chosen the president of a university -- and a prestigious private university at that -- to be the nation's next prime minister shows that morality was being sought. Moreover, the fact that Ms. Chang holds a doctorate in theology and supposedly is freer from corruption also seems to have contributed to President Kim's naming her to the prime minister post.

The role of a prime minister in Korea is largely ceremonial. With fewer than six months left in the present administration, the next prime minister would have little motivation to initiate new programs.

The role of the next prime minister will be to lessen the distrust of the people, emanating from the scandals plaguing the administration. These were the reasons morality was the overriding factor, not administrative skills, in the decision to nominate Ms. Chang.

Thus few people were surprised that her confirmation hearing focused on issues related to her ethics. There were, of course, the routine questions about the "main enemy" issue and the "sunshine" policy, but Ms. Chang's morality was the subject of the most probing queries. The hearing centered mostly around the question of whether her son is a U.S. citizen, allegations that she speculated in real estate and that she had even changed addresses to make the alleged speculation easier. On top of all of this, she was accused of purposely misrepresenting her school record. In addition, her tendency to place the burden of every problem that arose on the people around her became an issue.

As a prime minister nominee chosen for her supposed morality rather than her administrative skills, she, logically, was examined for her personal ethics during the confirmation hearing. That she failed the test was no surprise, since she did not convincingly refute the allegations.

The result of the voting aside, the nation was shortchanged by the confirmation committee, which failed to lead sufficient discussions on issues concerning personal conduct. It seemed as if the panel merely scratched the surface by posing questions without pushing for complete answers.

It was frustrating watching the National Assembly members bark questions, with Ms. Chang continuously saying that she did not recall clearly. It almost seemed as if those asking the questions were subtly trying not to get to the core of the problem, courting her approval furtively.

The hearing fell short of convincing the public to take a position on issues of morality, let alone setting strict criteria on conduct, and it set no precedents for the fair evaluation of a nominee. The result of this half-hearted hearing causes one to wonder if indeed the outcome is based on a proper evaluation of Ms. Chang.

Confirmation hearings in the future should not leave such knots untied. Whether evaluating the administrative skills or the morality of a nominee, sufficient time should be taken for the committee to pose the proper questions and the nominee to answer them effectively. To accomplish this task, the time set aside for the hearing, including preparation, should be extended.

The possibility of a standing committee taking the place of the special committee, which was selected on short notice, should also be considered. Above all, the members of the hearing committee should pose questions without making partisan calculations.


The writer is a professor of political science at Kyunghee University.

by Lim Sung-ho

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