[Viewpoint]The rules shouldn’t be changed overnight

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[Viewpoint]The rules shouldn’t be changed overnight

Something strange is happening with the personnel appointments at the Ministry of National Defense. No spokesperson for the ministry has been properly appointed in the past six months, and the position of the head of the Personnel Planning Bureau has been vacant for the past four months.
The head of the Public Affairs Management Bureau used to be the ministry’s spokesperson. The responsibilities of this post are to explain current issues at the ministrysuch as defense policy matters, that are directly linked to national security, the structure of the military and strategic plans. The head of the Personnel Planning Bureau, which has the office of personnel affairs of generals under its wing, should have a clear knowledge of the principles and practices in the appointments of army, navy and air force generals.
Therefore, the two posts are key positions at the Ministry of National Defense.
If that is the case, how can these positions remain vacant so long? Here is a full account:
When the former spokesperson retired from his post in September, Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo ordered the deputy chief of the Innovation Planning Team to assume the spokesman position concurrently.
And then the ministry selected two candidates for the post through open recruitment. Candidate “A,” a colonel in the reserve, was the first choice, and candidate “B,” a former journalist, was the second. The ministry sent its recommendations to the Civil Service Commission for review. The commission examined the candidates’ capabilities in January and decided to disqualify candidate “A” for “lack of proper qualifications.” The commission notified the ministry that “B” was the sole candidate for the post.
The trouble started there. Minister Kim refused to accept the decision of the commission. He is said to be of the opinion that the post of the ministry’s spokesperson requires specific knowledge related to national defense. Thus he refused to appoint a non-specialist to the post. Minister Kim ordered the chief of the ministry’s Information Policy Team to take charge of the Public Affairs Management Bureau.
Defense Ministry officials expressed their view that, although they “agreed with the purpose of the open recruitment system for government posts, the commission seemed to have forced the ministry too hard ‘in order to appoint more civilians to the ministry’s posts’” through “code appointments” of people who share the ideological views of the administration.
An official of the ministry retorted, “The failed candidate, who holds a doctorate, was a professor at the Military Academy and had been head of the Public Relations Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and head of the Public Relations Planning Department of the Ministry of National Defense. How can he be unqualified for the post?”
The ministry had also selected two candidates for the post of head of the Personnel Planning Bureau and recommended them directly to the Blue House last year. They could skip the screening procedures of the Civil Service Commission because they were both military generals. However, the Blue House was known to have rejected both candidates.
Mr. Kim selected two other candidates last month and recommended them to the Blue House. It is known that the situation has finally stabilized recently, although there were also some problems with them at the Blue House.
The officials of the Defense Ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are unhappy about the delayed appointment of the head of the ministry’s personnel planning bureau.
Some staff at the ministry have pointed out problems with the senior civil service corps system. They say the process is too complicated, and the president has taken away personnel appointment rights usually delegated to Cabinet ministers.
Personnel appointments to the senior civil service corps have to go through a 10-step process: 1) public notice of the vacancy by the relevant ministry; 2) the registration of applicants; 3) recommendations to the Civil Service Commission; 4) evaluation of the candidates’ abilities; 5) the Civil Service Commission informs the concerned ministry of the results of evaluation; 6) a recommendation to the Blue House if the ministry accepts the results; 7) verification by the Blue House; 8) the Blue House informs the Civil Service Commission of the result of its verification; 9) the Civil Service Commission informs the ministry of the Blue House’s decision; 10) the ministry appoints the successful candidate to the post.
The Minister of National Defense is entrusted with the military command and military administration by the president, the military supreme commander. The military command has the authority to give military orders, and the military administration has the authority to administer personnel and budget affairs of the ministry. The military command has power only when it is backed up by military administration authority. A Defense Ministry official said, “If the military administration authority is damaged, how can the Minister of National Defense command and control the military?”
Those who are involved in this personnel appointment controversy should reflect on whether this state of affairs helps the minister exercise military command authority. If the minister managed personnel matters through favoritism, he should be punished. If not, his discretion over personnel appointments should be guaranteed, because soldiers will only be able to give their lives for the nation and the supreme commander of the military if the minister’s authority to command the military during ordinary times is firmly established.
The intentions of “the civilianization of the Ministry of National Defense” and the establishment of a senior civil service corps are truly the demand of the times.
However, it is not right to try to fill such positions as the heads of the Public Affairs Management Bureau and the Personnel Planning Bureau, which need thorough knowledge of the military, by changing rules overnight. This can only cause bad side effects, as it did this time.
Does President Roh know about these problems?

*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Chul-hee
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