The SKY is the limit for minister nomineesThe SKY people. That’s the moniker the media is using to characterize the elite crowd taking over the cabinet and the Blue House senior positions.
But it’s not being used in the traditional whimsical way, to describe Korea’s three top universities ― Seoul National, Korea and Yonsei.
The “S” stands for Somang Church, a giant congregation in southern Seoul. At least three of Lee Myung-bak’s key aides, including Kang Man-soo, strategic planning and finance minister nominee, attend services there every Sunday with Lee, an elder there, and first lady Kim Yoon-ok, a deaconess.
A negative reaction, particularly from the non-Christian crowd, caused some tension recently when the media reported that Kwak Seung-jun, 47, an economics professor at Korea University and Lee’s senior aide for national policy planning, was a devout Christian. Kwak sent out a press release pointing out that not only has he never gone to Somang, he was not even a Christian.
As in the original acronym, the “K” stands for Korea University, Lee’s alma mater. Kwak and civil affairs secretary Lee Jong-chan both graduated from there. Of the cabinet nominees, Chung Woon-chun of agriculture, fisheries and food, and Chung Jong-hwan, of homeland and maritime affairs, both earned degrees from the school.
The “Y” is for the Yeongnam region, the two Gyeongsang provinces in the southeastern part of Korea. Lee, along with 10 other members of the secretariat and the cabinet nominees, are natives of the region, known for supporting conservatives.
The Blue House presidential secretariat
About 40 secretaries will assist Lee. That figure is fewer than the number of secretaries under Roh Moo-hyun, who had 53. Also in line with Lee’s desire to create a smaller and more efficient government, he downsized the total number of Blue House employees to some 450, a drop from 533 under Roh.
Earlier this month, when Lee introduced on a live broadcast his nine senior secretaries ― including his chief of staff ― he said, in English, they were the “best of the best.” Lee used the same English phrase repeatedly when talking to his personnel advisers about the most important criteria for a presidential secretary.
“Lee prefers specialists over generalists,” said an aide to Lee on the transition team, who declined to be named. “He wants professionals who have a definite ability to show off.”
The members of Lee’s senior secretariat boast fancy academic credentials. Eight of them hold doctorates from Ivy League schools or other elite schools around the world. Yu Woo-ik, the chief of staff, is a geography professor at Seoul National University who earned his doctorate from the University of Kiel in Germany.
Kim Byung-kook, a political scientist at Korea University, and now the foreign affairs and security secretary, earned his masters and doctorate from Harvard. Kim Choong-soo, the economics secretary, studied at the University of Pennsylvania and served as the president of Hallym University. Park Mi-seok, social policy secretary, holds a doctorate from Michigan State University; the education, science and culture secretary Lee Ju-ho, a former Grand National Party lawmaker, received his doctoral degree from Cornell. Bahk Jae-wan, the secretary for political affairs, also holds a Harvard doctorate. Lee Jong-chan, a partner in Ace Law Group and a former chief prosecutor, who is now the secretary for civil affairs, studied at Korea University, renowned for law studies. Kwak Seung-jun, a doctorate holder from Vanderbilt University, is now the secretary for national policy planning, the architect of major policies for Lee.
Presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan was a Dong-A Ilbo political news editor before joining the Lee administration. Kim Eun-hye, a news anchor for MBC, will assist him as deputy spokeswoman.
Lee Myung-bak took a long time to decide who would fill up his first cabinet.
Despite protests from opposition lawmakers that he was acting prematurely, Lee announced his first cabinet members even before the negotiations produced an agreement to pass the government overhaul plan in the National Assembly. Lee said he had to prepare for a new practical administration that will work faster and more efficiently.
The Lee administration being launched today will essentially have 15 ministries, down from the 18 under the Roh administration.
While the Roh presidential secretariat was filled mostly with younger academics, Lee’s 15 minister nominees have backgrounds as senior government officials. They tend to be more experienced veterans of each field.
The cabinet minister nominees are 61.3 years old on average, nine years older than Lee’s presidential secretaries. They are also about six years older than the average age of the members of Roh’s first cabinet five years ago.
Among the 15 minister nominees, the youngest is Chung Woon-chun, 54, former head of a local organization of agricultural CEOs, appointed as agriculture, fisheries and food minister. Others in their 50s are Won Sei-hoon, former vice mayor of Seoul, appointed as government administration and security minister; You In-chon, a former actor and Chung-Ang University professor, appointed as minister of culture, sports and tourism; and Nam Joo-hong, a former Kyonggi University professor, appointed as unification minister.
The remaining 10 are in their 60s and over. Han Seung-soo, the prime minister nominee is 72, the oldest in the cabinet. In Roh’s cabinet, the only minister over 60 was Cho Yong-gil, for national defense.
The majority in Lee’s cabinet graduated from Seoul National University, while two graduated from Korea University. Others graduated from universities such as Yonsei, Ewha Womans, Chung-Ang, Konkuk and the Korea Military Academy.
Seven out of the 15 minister nominees, plus the prime minister, hold a doctorate. Five have a master’s degree.
Most of them have spent long years as experts in their fields. Many of them also understand Lee’s pragmatic philosophy well, as they spent years working with him either when he was a Hyundai CEO or when he was mayor of Seoul.
Kang Man-soo, the strategic planning and finance minister nominee, was a deputy finance minister under former President Kim Young-sam and the former head of the Seoul Development Institute, a research center for the city government. Kang is a veteran in the financial field. He has worked for the concerned ministries for more than 30 years, since passing the state exam and becoming an executive of the National Tax Service in 1970.
Kim Kyung-hwan, the justice minister nominee, was a deputy justice minister and the head of the Chuncheon Prosecutors’ Office in Gangwon. Chung Jong-hwan, the homeland and maritime affairs minister nominee, is a former director of the Korea Rail Network Authority.
Lee chose Kim Doh-yeon as human resources, science and technology minister nominee.
Euh Yoon-dae, the former Korea University president known for his CEO-like administration style, was originally chosen as education minister. However, Lee replaced him immediately after the Hankyoreh newspaper wrote an article suggesting Euh’s wife was involved in real estate speculation.
Park Eun-kyung, president of the YWCA, was named to lead the environment ministry. Kim Soung-yee, an Ewha Womans University professor, is the health, welfare and family minister nominee while Lee Young-hee, a labor law professor at Inha University, is the labor minister nominee. Yu Myung-hwan, the ambassador to Japan, was named to the foreign affairs and trade minister post.
Many experts were surprised at the appointment to the knowledge-based economy ministerial post.
The president chose Lee Youn-ho, vice chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries. He is much better known for his career in the private sector than working in the government.
By Lee Min-a Staff Reporter [email@example.com]