Tax chief named Lee’s policy czar

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Tax chief named Lee’s policy czar

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In a reshuffle aimed at enhancing the efficiency of his administration and improving ties with political rivals, President Lee Myung-bak named Baek Yong-ho, head of the National Tax Service, as Blue House chief policy director and Grand National Representative Chung Jin-suk as senior presidential secretary for political affairs.

For the newly created post of senior secretary for social integration, Lee named Park In-joo, head of the National Institute for Lifelong Education.

Kim Hee-jung, a former GNP lawmaker and current head of the Korea Internet and Security Agency, was named as Lee’s spokeswoman.

Stung by his governing party’s crushing defeat in local elections last month, Lee had pledged to review policy priorities and revamp his secretariat and cabinet. A generational change of key aides was also promised to improve the administration’s image with younger Koreans.

Last week, Lee appointed labor minister and three-term GNP lawmaker Yim Tae-hee as his new chief of staff. With Baek’s appointment yesterday, Lee completed the appointment of the two top posts of his secretariat.

By appointing two lawmakers - Yim and Chung - for the key posts, Lee also made clear his intention to seek cooperation with the National Assembly to push forward the rest of his agenda for the second half of his term.

“Baek has an excellent understanding of the president’s philosophy and is expected to assist Lee greatly with his passionate and meticulous performance,” the Blue House said in a press release, calling the 54-year-old former professor, “a reform-minded economist” with “a soft leadership style and strong, decisive power.”

A member of Lee’s transition team when he took office, Baek served as the chief of the Fair Trade Commission from March 2008 until June 2009. In July of last year, Lee appointed Baek as head of the embattled National Tax Service after its three previous heads were either jailed or stepped down over corruption scandals.

After completing a doctoral degree in economics at the State University of New York, Baek served as a professor at Ewha Womans University. A native of South Chungcheong, Baek also graduated from high school in North Jeolla, adding a regional balance in the secretariat. Lee’s determination to end factional fights inside the ruling GNP that have hobbled the administration’s agenda, as well as to reconcile with the Chungcheong region in the aftermath of the Sejong City controversy, was evident in his decision to name Chung as senior secretary for political affairs. The three-term lawmaker with strong ties to Chungcheong is a well-known advocate of Lee’s political rival Park Geun-hye.

The 50-year-old lawmaker graduated from Korea University and worked as a journalist for Hankook Ilbo. His political career began in 2000 when he was elected a lawmaker from the Chungcheong-based political party United Liberal Democrats and served as the party’s spokesman. He was re-elected in a by-election in 2005.

After joining the Grand National Party in 2007, Chung began his third term as a lawmaker in 2008, when he was elected as a proportional representative.

A native of Gongju, South Chungcheong, Chung opposed Lee’s plan to revise the Sejong City development. He also maintains close ties with the conservative minority Liberty Forward Party, whose stronghold is the Chungcheong region and which enjoys a position as the deciding voting bloc in the legislature. “We expect him to improve communication among the government, Blue House, and ruling and opposition parties and play a role as a bridge to maintain smooth relationships,” the Blue House said.

Chung’s appointment also shows Lee’s intention to reconcile with his rival Park. Although he is not identified as a pro-Park faction member, he maintains an amicable relationship with Park loyalists. In private meetings with other politicians, Chung has openly backed Park as the next presidential hopeful.

Chung is also on good terms with reformist lawmakers inside the Grand National Party, as well as die-hard members of the pro-Lee faction.

While two officials in their 50s from South Chungcheong were appointed to the key posts, Lee made a more conservative choice for the newly created post of senior secretary for social integration by appointing 60-year-old civic activist Park.

“Park served in many civic groups for a long time, proving to have a flexible thinking beyond ideology and wealth,” the Blue House said. “He was recommended highly by religious and civic groups and has the ability to speak critically to the president when necessary.”

Despite earlier media speculation that Lee would replace his senior secretary for public affairs, no announcement was made yesterday about a replacement. Yoo Jin-ryoung, former vice culture minister, has been offered the job but refused to accept it, sources at the Blue House said.

According to the Blue House, the rest of the shuffle in the presidential secretariat will be completed before the end of this week.

Lee is expected to keep his senior secretary for foreign affairs, Kim Sung-hwan, and senior secretary for economic affairs, Choi Joong-kyung, until the Group of 20 Summit in Seoul in November. Choi was named to the post in April.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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