[Viewpoint]Absence of maliceOne day, a man called his two sons-in-law in for a talk. “You two are civil servants who receive salaries from taxpayers. You should never deviate from your duties. You must not receive bribes. I do not expect you to become the greatest dignitaries, but I want you always to do your best.”
The two civil servants are Kim Yong-deok and Kim Gwang-rim. Thanks to the strict words of the father-in-law, a retired local businessman, they both had successful public careers, serving as minister and deputy minister.
Kim Yong-deok, who is married to the man’s older daughter, was recently appointed chairman of the Financial Supervisory Commission. Kim Gwang-rim, who had served as the deputy minister of finance and economy, is currently the chancellor of Semyung University.
They must have followed the advice of their father-in-law. Kim Yong-deok has made little noise throughout his long public career. A few days ago, I had the chance to ask Kim about his brother-in-law.
“He sticks to principles and is a man of few words. My sister-in-law has said that she is always the one to starts the conversation. He does not show himself off, so he is not into networking or being a boss. However, anyone who has worked with him always comes back to him.” According to Kim, his brother-in-law’s personality is epitomized by an absolute absence of evil in his mind. He doesn’t deceive himself and is reserved in his conduct, even when he is alone.
Considering his history and family legacy, as well as his clean-cut image and ethics, Chairman Kim is well-qualified to head a government agency. What about his competence? He is known for his profound knowledge of international finance.
While serving as the commissioner of the Korea Customs Service, he was said to have upgraded the administration. As a Blue House economic adviser to the president, he helped stabilized the real estate market by integrating financial policies, such as housing mortgage loan regulations, into tax-oriented real estate policies.
Then is he a man of conviction? When he was appointed to head the Financial Supervisory Commission, the initial reaction of the financial market was skepticism.
The market was concerned he might try too hard to be in sync with the Roh Moo-hyun administration. Because he was not an aggressive boss but a hard-working assistant type, some worried he could not see the forest for the trees.
Of course, a civil servant has to be faithful to the one who appoints him. However, the post of chairman of the Financial Supervisory Commission is different.
He is in a position to have absolute influence over the financial market and the national economy. Therefore, he is required to keep strict neutrality and independence. He should never try to curry favor with the Blue House.
Seven years ago, I wrote a story about the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which is the equivalent to Korea’s Financial Supervisory Commission.
An SEC insider said the Securities and Exchange Commission does not report to the president, but only to Congress.
“The top priority of Chairman Arthur Levitt is consumer protection,” he said.
While the SEC is a part of the executive branch, it can only advocate proper policies for consumers when it operates independently.
Chairman Kim is a light eater. He does not drink coffee or smoke cigarettes. He is not a sworn vegetarian, but does not eat meat. He refrains from all these in order to keep his weight down. Similarly, when the Financial Supervisory Commission’s neutrality is undermined and the government interferes with the financial market, the nation, businesses and consumers are burdened.
In a press conference on Aug. 6, Chairman Kim pledged he would serve a full three-year term by keeping the principles of independence and neutrality in the Financial Supervisory Commission.
Some think he will be out of office within six months, when the Roh Moo-hyun administration exits.
However, if he solemnly stays neutral and does not deviate from his duties - as his father-in-law advised - he could indeed last the full three years in office.
*The writer is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Chung Sun-gu