[FORUM]Who can pass the test? Not many

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[FORUM]Who can pass the test? Not many

This week's parliamentary hearing on the nomination of Chang Dae-whan as prime minister was the second such hearing in Korean history. The nomination of Chang Sang, a former university president, was rejected last month. Mr. Chang was also rejected. Lack of experience caused confusion. Lawmakers were hovering over inquiries. People who watched the televised hearings were also confused in deciding whether the nominee should be approved. However, the two hearings were thought-provoking.

First, it will be difficult, at least for the time being, to find eligible candidates for high public posts that are subject to parliamentary scrutiny by law. It sounds more realistic to hear from government officials who screened candidates for prime minister nomination after Ms. Chang was rejected. They investigated roughly 30 high-profile social leaders and then selected three or four out of them. But they also had scores of minor flaws, the official said. Their remarks imply that finding a "stainless" person among prospective prime minister candidates is next to impossible, despite the fact there are conscientious people among commoners who were not included on their list.

Some joke that the next president has no choice but to accept a cabinet-responsible government led by the prime minister. It would be difficult to replace a prime minister when eligible candidates are so hard to find.

Second, civil servants, university professors, businessmen and media men who are aspiring to become high-ranking government officials will become conscientious about their every move after watching the parliamentary hearings. Those who stand before the questioners must reveal their entire life and their families go under scrutiny.

The obvious principle that aspiring high-ranking government officials should have nothing to be ashamed of is taking root in Korean society for the first time since the Korean government was established 45 years ago. The political circles are reaching a consensus that the major government watchdogs, the heads of the National Intelligence Service, the Public Prosecutors Office, the National Tax Service and the National Police Agency, should undergo parliamentary questioning before they are appointed. In the future there will be more parliamentary confirmations. It would be better for society if more people took heed of their actions.

Third, the hearings provided an opportunity for the people to look back. The two Changs are leaders who have distinguished themselves in the education and communication fields. Telling is the fact that the allegations raised against the two prime minister designates were similar, which implies that such problems are shared with their contemporaries.

The U.S. citizenship of Chang Sang's eldest son exempted him from mandatory military service. Mr. Chang filed a false change of address to Gangnam so his children could enter schools there, and Ms. Chang allegedly falsified address changes as part of real estate purchases. Mr. Chang was accused of evading taxes on land he inherited. At the parliamentary hearing, questions on alleged irregularities in the course of increasing their wealth and concerning activities that showed their strong affection for their children were deemed problematic.

There are two types of viewpoints on this matter. One is that it is wrong to pass judgment on the irregularities of Korean society likely caused by accumulating in decades what other countries amassed over centuries. On the other hand, some critics say that a person who violated the law has no right to tell other people to abide by the laws. It is up to the people to decide.

The National Assembly should draw up guidelines for parliamentary hearings. Putting too much focus on minor mistakes and rejoicing over the flaws of society's leaders should come to an end.

For the time being, it would be best if expectations in terms of ethical standards are lowered to the level of the upper 20 percent of contemporaries if lawmakers reach a consensus to do so after thorough discussions.


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The writer is the political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Du-woo

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