[INSIGHT]Roh appointments spark concernsA change in power is a good thing. It allows fresh voices to be heard and eye-opening comments to be made. President Roh Moo-hyun has declared that his government will not rely on “power agencies,” as did governments in the past. As an example of how he intends to separate government agencies from politics, the president has declared through his senior secretary for civil affairs that he does not want the prosecutors office reporting to the Blue House, as has been the tradition. Let them do their job on their own, the secretary reported the president as saying.
This is a most welcome answer to the long-heard cry for the independence of the prosecutors office and to the de-politicization of government agencies. This society has been subject to injustices and ruptures caused by the political subservience of administrative agencies and their targeted inspections, wiretappings and investigations. President Roh has promised to report to the public in detail about the progress of North-South relations from now on, and to carry on those relations based on a national consensus. This, too, is sweet music to our ears. The president’s determination to break molds can also be seen in his first cabinet of ministers. Hackneyed formalities will have no part in this government, we are assured.
Thus, the new government seems to have begun with exciting statements and fresh impetus. Now, the big question is, will these good intentions be carried out to the end? Even the new cabinet appointments were not made in accordance with the strict role-sharing of the prime minister and the president that Mr. Roh had promised. From nomination to appointment, the ministers were all decided by the president and his aides. The prime minister’s role in job proposals seems to be to serve as a best man in these appointments, as was before.
An even bigger reason for concern is the unchecked manner of public participation in politics. When Prime Minister Goh Kun recommended Oh Myung as a deputy prime minister, the Blue House Web site was quickly bombarded with protests and profanities, some directed at the president himself. The candidate in question declined the offer. Leaving aside the question of whether it was reasonable to object to this candidate or not, a precedent in which online opinions influenced a ministerial appointment is not a desirable thing. While public opinion should be respected even when it concerns government appointments, ministers should primarily be appointed according to the help and assistance the president feels they can give him in his duties. It is the president’s right to appoint someone he sees fit for a job, even if that is against public opinion. This might not be an appropriate analogy, but a physician does not ask the public before he performs brain surgery. In the end, it is up to the professional to decide.
A disturbing piece of news last week came when President Roh apparently asked his “386” aides to “let me go free now.” The “386” refers to those in their 30s who went to college in the 1980s and were born in the 1960s. All had been resources for the president in his election campaign. The news was that during a dinner with his Blue House appointees, the president’s eyes got teary when he spoke of a birthday present and letter he received from his aides. In the letter thanking the president, the aides had also written, “We hope you remain our unchanging instrument.”
Let’s ponder this. What does it mean that the president has asked his aides to “let me go?” Had he been tied to them until now? What about the word, “instrument?” It is a rather curious choice of word that does nothing to ease the already rising apprehension that the president is too chummy with his anti-establishment friends of the past. In fact, many of the Blue House staff appointments reflect the influence these “386” aides have on the president.
It would be a great problem indeed should the president be so tied to these aides he must ask them to let him go. Past experience shows us that abuse of power rises when the president is under the control of specific figures or groups. President Roh should not ask to be set free; he should free himself. He should not be their “instrument,” but use them as his “instruments.”
Looking at the recent appointments, it is clear who the “shareholders” of the Roh administration are: the “386” forces, the president’s personal fan club called the Nosamo group, certain civic groups and belligerent Web surfers. These groups have the power to appoint whom they want and push away those they don’t. But they can hardly be the central body of the administration.
The most urgent homework for the Roh administration should be to create a stable and professional body of national governance.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok