[Viewpoint]Appointments and common sense

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[Viewpoint]Appointments and common sense

Some government agencies actually have as much, if not more, clout than the prime minister or a cabinet ministry. These are known as “power organizations.” The National Intelligence Service (NIS), the Public Prosecutors’ Office and the National Police Agency are the three major power organizations involved in the world of law and investigations. The Financial Supervisory Service, the Fair Trade Commission and the National Tax Service are the power organizations in economic affairs, no less powerful than the other three. The heads of these organizations are appointed only after the candidates pass questioning at a hearing of the National Assembly. Of these six, the heads of three organizations will finish their terms in office late this year or early next year.
Yoon Jeung-hyun, the governor of the Financial Supervisory Service, finishes his three-year term on Aug. 3. The Financial Supervisory Service was established in January 1999, integrating the Office of Bank Supervision, the Insurance Supervisory Board, the Securities Supervisory Board and the Non-Bank Supervisory Authority. It is a powerful “financial prosecutors’ office” that supervises almost all financial companies, including banks, insurance, securities and credit card companies. The upcoming handover to a new governor comes at a time when the barriers between banks, insurance and securities companies are disappearing as a restructuring of the financial sector is changing the rules of the game and blurring the lines in the industry. Therefore, the question of who will be the next governor of the Financial Supervisory Service cannot help but attract the attention of the people.
Prosecutor General Chung Sang-myoung finishes his term on Nov. 23, and Lee Taek-soon, the commissioner general of the National Police Agency, finishes his on Feb. 9, 2008. Will President Roh Moo-hyun appoint the heads of these three organizations, or will he leave the appointments to the next administration?
The Blue House has recently been studying such matters. It is not yet known what decision Roh has made upon receiving the reports, but it is said that the Blue House has started the selection process for a successor to the governor of the Financial Supervisory Service. It’s understandable that the selection process for the next governor of the Financial Supervisory Service is beginning now, because Roh’s term of office ends in seven months. However, there are problems in the case of the other two anticipated vacancies.
By a curious coincidence, the prosecutor general’s term ends at a politically sensitive time, less than one month before the presidential election in December. It is also three months before the end of Roh’s. Depending on who is appointed the new prosecutor general, it is highly likely that a heated controversy on the neutrality of the prosecution will flare up. The term of the police commissioner general will end only two weeks before President Roh leaves office, assuming that Commissioner General Lee Taek-soon survives to end his term in the post, despite the stain on his office from the case of Hanwha Group chairman Kim Seung-youn’s violent revenge attacks and the attempted bribery of high-ranking police officials to cover up the case.
We can predict what will happen based on the management style of the president. His ill-fated appointment of Jeon Hyo-sook, a judge of the Constitutional Court, as chief justice of the court was a good example. The Blue House figured that Jeon would serve only the remaining three years of her term in the court if she was confirmed as chief justice while serving as a judge, but that she could start anew and serve a full six-year term if she resigned her position and was appointed chief justice. The Blue House decided to take the latter option and executed the plan, only to be caught up in a debate over whether the fact that she was no longer serving as a judge was unconstitutional. The problem happened only because Roh wanted to see his chief justice appointee continue to exercise influence in the next administration. Knowing this, who would believe that Roh would give up precious opportunities to appoint a new prosecutor general and the next police commissioner general?
In addition, the current administration has made it known that it will make it impossible for the next administration, and even the next succeeding administration, to change what it has done. For example, regarding a long-anticipated summit between South and North Korea, Roh said, “Whether I have two or three months left in my term of office, if I hold a summit meeting with the North Korean leader and seal an agreement, the next president cannot reject it.” When he presented various real estate policies, he boasted,“I made them hard to change, even harder than changing the Constitution.” He also announced that he would apply the highly controversial “equal opportunity allotment system,” giving a quota of 11 percent of university spots to students from low-income families, starting in 2009. It is unlikely, therefore, that the administration will ever give up personnel appointment rights on the reasoning that it has only three months or two weeks left of its term.
The president can appoint people to public posts even on the eve of his departure from office. However, the appointments of the next prosecutor general and the new police commissioner general should be reconsidered, even if there are no legal problems. It could provoke suspicion that those handpicked by Roh have been appointed in order to cover up the corruption of the current administration.
It can also leave a precedent for abusing the system of set terms for the heads of power organizations. These were established precisely to secure their independence from political power, but what would happen if all outgoing presidents appointed new heads of power organizations right before they retired?
The reason why the law does not have clauses that restrict the president’s appointment rights by stipulating that personnel appointments cannot be made within a certain period before the end of the president’s term in office is because it is based on political common sense. If the president neglects common sense, he will only aggravate the situation and raise the tone of useless debates.
Unfortunately, common sense does not seem to work these days.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Du-woo
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