[Viewpoint]Cabinet controversyI am truly impressed. You guys are geniuses when it comes to offending the citizens. I am talking about the ministers of the Republic of Korea. When some people drop things, others must pick them up. But these ministers are only making trouble and are not interested in the settling dust.
It is only natural that the public is becoming so disenfranchised, and I feel sorry for the president, who has made up his mind to go the distance with these pathetic partners. He really has nothing to say in his defense, though, since what is happening is the outcome of his decisions to appoint friends. If he was lucky, at least one of them would prove to be at least somewhat helpful.
But unfortunately, the cabinet is filled with troublemakers, and President Lee is paying a high price. The problem is that the cabinet is still a dangerous minefield even after all the explosions that have occurred so far. It seems that the controversies were not just mistakes. Dangerous detonators are buried all over the place. When accused of real estate speculation, a ministerial designee defended herself saying that she just loved land.
Another said that upon finding out that her cancer diagnosis was mistaken, her husband bought an officetel to celebrate. It is no secret that some in the administration have absurd philosophies, but the scope of their imagination is still amusing.
The latest scandal came from the Minister of Education, Science and Technology, who is in charge of the nation’s future. He encouraged ministry officials to give cash gifts to their alma maters to show how important they have become in the government. Some even visited their children’s schools.
The minister could hand out an envelope containing 20 million won ($19,286), while the vice ministers give gifts of 10 million won. Senior officials were allowed to promise 5 million won each. The irregular use of taxpayers’ money is shocking enough, but his justification is even more absurd. “It has been a routine practice, but I feel regret to have created a social controversy.”
I really thought I was hearing the usual diplomatic rhetoric often employed by a neighboring government. How could a minister make such a brazen remark in front of furious citizens? He does not understand the essence of the problem. The public is growing so angry that people are calling for him to step down.
So he has finally made an apology, but the citizens are not in a mood to accept it. Now, the growing anger is directed at his boss, the president, who is busy trying to rid his administration of such unhealthy practices.
The Minister of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries showed his liberal side at a National Assembly hearing. He is suspected of obtaining signatures from local government heads in rural areas to oppose his dismissal in return for assistance of several billion won. He is using government money to keep his job, but he argues that the money was going to be used for the farming villages anyway.
His reasoning is similar to the logic that the Education Ministry spent money intended for education anyway. Compared to them, the Minister of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs and the Minister of Public Administration and Security are romantics. The health minister said that cows are living beings and deserve to live for 10 years. The public administration minister said the people in the countryside should thank the urbanites for buying rural land. Well, when they expressed their romantic sides, the citizens lost trust in the president.
Heo Gyun, author of “The Tale of Hong Gil-dong,” had a theory about people of a small-minded character. “A small mind deceives others with actions and has a talent for making trouble. If such people hold public positions, they do not understand the minds of the people and act as they please. The difference between a small mind and a great mind is not very big, but the consequences are disastrous. When the government is filled with small-minded people who lack talent and knowledge but covet authority and power, it is a true calamity.”
To me, the theory reflects today’s situation. Our ministers are acting as if they have small minds, and we are experiencing a disaster. Just as Heo said, the difference between a great mind and a small mind is very small. In the case of the ministers, it all depends on whether they value official affairs or private affairs.
Han Feizi was the first to distinguish the official and the personal. He said that pursuing your own interest is personal, and the opposite is true for the public interest. When you accumulate great wealth and even become a minister, what more can you hope for? What about devoting yourself to the public interest for a change? Won’t it be a shame if you are labeled a small mind because of a small difference?
*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Hoon-beom