[EDITORIALS]An abrupt departureAll kinds of speculation have been rising after Lee Ju-sung, the National Tax Service commissioner, suddenly resigned from his post. Other cabinet posts have not been changed, nor is this the season for personnel changes in Korea’s bureaucracy.
Some people have assumed that the head of the tax agency was pressured to resign because of the failed real estate tax policy that was one of the leading contributors to the governing party’s defeat in the recent local elections. Others speculate that there has been an internal power struggle in the Blue House and that Mr. Lee’s departure is the first shot in a major cabinet shake-up.
Mr. Lee said he was resigning to open opportunities for younger officials at the tax agency and that he has reached the limit of what he can do because of his health. That’s not a very compelling argument, though. Mr. Lee was a faithful follower of the administration’s “code” and devised tax measures that supported the party line.
He was also enthusiastic about his work, and was planning to host a meeting of tax-agency heads of the member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in September.
There have been no signs that his health suddenly deteriorated or that the personnel situation at the tax agency was in any different situation than that in other government agencies. The Blue House is trying to avoid answering questions by saying that it knows of no reasons for Mr. Lee’s resignation other than the ones given. That reply has just spurred more speculation.
The National Tax Service commissioner is one of the government’s most powerful posts, along with the National Intelligence Service, the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Police Agency.
The National Assembly gives priority to examining the qualifications for nominees to those posts, and has the power to reject them, unlike its role in reviewing nominees for other cabinet posts. Therefore, it is simply not acceptable for the head of such a powerful agency to resign, supposedly voluntarily, without giving a clear explanation.
This is why Mr. Lee’s resignation is being interpreted as a firing by the president rather than a voluntary move. The Blue House should make it clear whether or not Mr. Lee has made a huge mistake that should not end with a simple resignation.
If the government tries to hush rumors and cover the situation up, it will be unavoidable that Mr. Lee and the administration are the subjects of malicious gossip.