[VIEWPOINT]Blue House secretaries lack dignityThe Blue House office secretaries are the shadow of the president. They are supposed to be the behind-the-scenes antennae of the administration. The secretaries are the hands and feet of the president. When they make a mistake and get attacked, the president receives an electric shock.
However, these days, the office of the president works on the front line. Instead of being troubleshooters, they are making trouble. The chief of staff attacks the opposition party and the media openly. At a press conference earlier this month, he criticized Uri Party chairman Kim Geun-tae for opposing Moon Jae-in as justice minister. The public relations secretaries create trouble with absurd logic. One speculated that if President Park Chung Hee had been a high school principal, President Roh Moo-hyun would be a university president. Another claimed that the president lives in the 21st century while the citizens are still immersed in the culture of the autocratic era.
The public relations planning secretary is a first-class government official, not an even a minister or vice-minister.
However, he criticized former Grand National Party leader Park Geun-hye for lacking five merits: responsibility, decisiveness, historical awareness, reflection and consistency. Despite being at the center of the appointment controversy, his voice was higher and louder than those of the ministers and vice ministers at the National Assembly.
The Blue House secretaries, whether under an autocratic regime or a democratic administration, should have dignity. The problem with the office of the president in the current administration is the absence of dignity. If the secretaries had worked silently in the shadows, they would not have been exposed as much and could have kept their dignity. In keeping dignity, the choice of secretaries is as important as their behavior.
The spokesperson is the creme de la creme of the Blue House, the mouth of the president and the face of the Blue House. The spokesperson should know more than the codes of his administration. He must have a deep understanding of modern Korean history, as well as the preceding administrations. So when the occasion arises, he should be able to wage a good fight against a veteran reporter, or even the editor-in-chief of a major newspaper, in a discussion.
However, the Roh Administration appointed a former anchorwoman in her 40s as its first spokesperson. After a pitiful three months, she resigned quietly. The spot was then filled with a series of 386 generation officials. They were all devoted to their duties, but just when one learned the administration, he would be replaced. A new spokesperson was appointed a few days ago. While a former spokesperson has returned again to the post once, the position has turned over six times in three and half years.
U.S. President George W. Bush has had three press secretaries in his five years and seven months in the White House. Ari Fleischer, the first press secretary in the Bush Administration, received a salary of $150,000 a year, the same level of compensation as the chief of staff and presidential advisors.
In the history of Korea’s development, the Blue House secretaries have maintained their authority. They are partly accountable for the abuse of power, corruption and media oppression that have occurred while the office of president was essentially an elite squad . The intelligence agency, prosecutors and security command played the role of the villain, so the office of president could do its job on its own.
There was a secretary who died in the line of duty. In May 1977, the team of the second presidential secretary for economic policy, Oh Won-cheol, was in charge of the defense industry and tested the fire power of a homemade Vulcan cannon with military researchers at a firing range.
A round of ammunition exploded by mistake, and Lee Seok-pyo, one of the secretaries, got a splinter in his chest. Mr. Oh later recalled that the government and the defense industry were determined to continue the project in memory of Mr. Lee.
The Blue House secretaries used to be first to third grade civil servants, and the administrative officers were fourth and fifth grade civil servants. Most of the times, officials with ample experience at the ministries were appointed as secretaries, and the office of president had little friction with ministries.
The order started to collapse from the Kim Young-sam administration. A young administrative officer became a third-grade civil servant and was soon promoted to secretary.
In the last days of the Kim Dae-jung administration, a 42-year-old former democratic activist became the Blue House spokesperson. In the Roh administration, many secretaries and administrative officers with a 386 background are first to third grades.
What do the aging civil servants who spent more than a decade working for the government to become third or fourth grade officials think when they look at them?
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin