[Viewpoint] Incompetence corrupts

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[Viewpoint] Incompetence corrupts

Former Minister of Health and Welfare Rhyu Si-min had once boasted that he was President Roh’s right-hand man. However, he was never part of the inner circle of power. Former Blue House secretary for public relations Cho Ki-suk was barely on the fringes. But the Park Yeon-cha scandal has revealed the hierarchy and network inside the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

Rhyu and Cho belonged to the “trumpeter group,” whose job it was to stir up public sentiment. The inner circle of the administration would pick a target, and those in Rhyu and Cho’s group would use provocative words to stir up the public. The pattern is being repeated today as Cho calls the corruption of the Roh administration “a crime of survival.” They also condemned the prosecutors’ investigation as a clumsy attempt to insult the former president. Such provocative language is a sign of a loyal trumpeter. At the same time, they might be suffering from withdrawal after losing power.

Roh Moo-hyun’s power circle had its own order. The hierarchy was defined based on a combination of contributions to the campaign, personal relationships, monetary transactions and ideological affinity.

Kang Geum-won, the chairman of Changshin Textile, claims that he was closest to the president and maintained the order of people around him. Kang managed the “386 generation” insiders with money. Ahn Hee-jung and Lee Kwang-jae were the left and right hands of the president. The Busan clique, which includes former chief of staff Moon Jae-in and former senior secretary for civil affairs Lee Ho-cheol, has been confirmed as the core of Roh’s power once again.

Roh Gun-pyeong, nicknamed Prince Bongha, and his family secretly enjoyed substantial power. Taekwang Industrial Chairman Park Yeon-cha and former senior secretary for general affairs Chung Sang-mun belonged to this group. The inner circle held 90 percent of the power, with the rest given to the party, civic groups, professors and journalists.

Former president Roh supported those who put the national agenda into practice. Former minister Rhyu lived up to expectations. He was a close aide to the president but failed to join the inner circle of power, an exclusive club with a high try barrier. Cho Ki-suk also liked to show off her closeness to the president and used the relationship to her advantage.

In the second year of the Roh Moo-hyun administration, the structure began to change. Blue House chief of staff Moon Hee-sang and senior secretary for political affairs Yu In-tae returned to the party. President Roh grew to feel uncomfortable with them, and Moon and Yu began to keep the pro-Roh 386 generation in check. Around this time, the influence of National Assembly Speaker Kim Won-gi, who was known as the political mentor of the president, started to weaken. Appointments and promotions were determined by ideological codes and personal relationships.

Code-based appointments confuse the internal order. The pro-Roh group staked out the moral high ground and felt that they were the legitimate power holders. Such feelings mutated into a sense of exclusive privilege. They thought of the money from Chairman Park and Chairman Kang as an internal transaction within the inner circle. They considered the money as political grants, not bribes.

Oversight of Roh’s family and relatives became slack. Roh Gun-pyeong had helped his brother since they were young. He bought a house for him and provided political funds. He is said to identify with Prince Yangnyeong, older brother of Joseon’s King Sejong.

It is not a coincidence that he is called Prince Bongha. Some ministers respected him as an older brother. He defined his relationship to President Roh just as Kwon Roh-gap did during the Kim Dae-jung administration. The former tax official was particular and detail-oriented, and he made sure he took a kickback for every business favor offered to Chairman Park.

Friction and backstabbing are natural companions of power. Chairman Park and Chairman Kang did not get along. Kang ridiculed Park as a broker who bought power with money. Park criticized Kang for assuming an air of importance after offering small amounts of money.

Chairman Park expanded his business during the Roh administration. In contrast, Chairman Kang enjoyed spending money. He reacted with glee when powerful politicians fell to the influence of money. President Roh was wary of Chairman Park at first and turned down his brother’s request to appoint one of Park’s in-laws to head the National Tax Service.

The latest scandal revealed the clumsiness, corruption and cliques of the Roh Moo-hyun inner circle. The biggest cause of the chaos was a failure in personnel management. The national administration may be ruined if the leader chooses people from a narrow pool. Corruption is bound to follow. Absolute power is not the only thing that leads to corruption - so does incompetence. This is the lesson of the betrayal and corruption of Roh Moo-hyun and his people.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Bo-gyoon
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