[VIEWPOINT]Choose cabinet members objectively

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[VIEWPOINT]Choose cabinet members objectively

The minister of maritime affairs and fisheries was dismissed after only two weeks in office. He had come under censure for using rash and unrefined language ― reminiscent of the president in his early days. Even while stepping down, the minister remained unabashed, excusing his disconcerting behavior by saying he had a “simple-hearted style.”
The minister’s firing directs our attention to the procedure by which a cabinet minister is appointed, and the behavior a cabinet member is supposed to show to those who work for him. It also makes one wonder whether it is a good idea for the president’s personal opinion to be considered in the appointment of ministers.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration has done something unprecedented in the process of appointing high-ranking officials, including ministers. After the agriculture minister resi-gned, it is said that the presidential aides for personnel appointments conducted individual interviews with three potential replacement candidates and evaluated their credentials. Such a system is of course very rational and it helps build public trust in the government.
When the cabinet is formed or reshuffled, the focus is on appointing individuals who can deliver on the governing philosophy or campaign promises of the president.
This has been caricatured as “the code” with the Roh government, but even in the United States it is considered very important that the president, his aides and the secretaries are more or less on the same wavelength and that this harmony extends down to the existing bureaucracy as well.
Professional expertise in the field, a candidate’s prior history and an impeccable record where wealth accumulation is concerned are additional issues. Of course, a favorable reputation is also a welcome asset. Age, home region and school only come afterward and that is to avoid concentrating appointments within a particular category.
There are several general requirements for a minister in his work. A minister must have the ability to establish and implement policies. He must also have the ability to develop and implement the budget for these policies and projects.
The ability to manage the ministry’s personnel is also an indispensable requirement. In addition, maintaining amicable relations with the National Assembly, the media, the Blue House staff and presidential aides and other agencies is very important. Such feats require an ability to effectively play politics, communication and organization skills, a degree of political clout, vision, intuition, and emotional and intellectual strength.
What our ministers in general lack the most are communication skills and the emotional and intellectual strength required for their posts. One can easily see these defects in the ministers at public lectures or speaking engagements either with the media or the National Assembly.
Another point that ministers should be aware of is to avoid too many public lectures unrelated to their immediate duties. Bureaucrats call this “taking the minister out on rounds,” a useful way of keeping ministers from getting in their way at work. One innocuous minister once boasted that he gave more than 700 lectures in one and a half years.
The most desirable thing for a minister to do is to sit in his office and agonize over how to carry out his duties in the fairest and swiftest way possible.
Richard Crossman, the British Labor politician who filled various ministerial posts and acted as the party whip in the 1960s, published a three-volume diary titled “The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister.” In this memoir, Mr. Crossman writes that instead of obsessing over the enormous power that came with the ministerial seat, he tried to take care of the government’s work item by item and to persuade others as a businessman does.
He also writes that it is not an honor for a minister to have reached that position; rather, the actions he took in preparation are what is important.
Robert Reich, the labor secretary during U.S. President Bill Clinton’s first term, also wrote about the professional challenges he faced as secretary in his autobiography “Locked in the Cabinet.” He describes how difficult and intricate the process was to persuade the Senate, the House of Represen-tatives, the president and the White House aides in order to get a bill passed. When the government chooses a minister, it does so with the strictest verification. Even then, there are times when the results do not turn out as expected.
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is a renowned performing ensemble that works without a conductor and yet is one of the handful of ensembles around the world that signed a long-term contract with Carnegie Hall. The lesson we could learn from Orpheus is that things could improve if the president didn’t insist on his personal choices of ministers.
The Blue House should adopt a fair and honest committee of personnel affairs such as the one that exists in the White House, and make a list of potential ministerial candidates for the next five years based on an objective checklist of criteria.
When such a list is made, perhaps the president could take a step outside and try to distance himself from those who worked for him before. Isn’t this a system worth trying?

* The writer, former chairman of Civil Service Commission, is a professor at the Graduate School of Public Administration, Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Kwang-woong
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