Korea’s ties with Africa botched

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Korea’s ties with Africa botched

The state auditor yesterday criticized the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for inefficient management of overseas missions in Africa, describing it as a gap in the government’s efforts to engage the continent for business opportunities and energy and mineral sources.

Even the number of Korean embassies in Africa, the agency said, is way short of its Asian rivals. Korea has reduced the number to 13, compared to China’s 42 embassies and Japan’s 25.

“Given China’s and Japan’s fast expansion of their presence in Africa to handle resource diplomacy, the lack of embassies and personnel is a serious issue to be dealt with,” said a Board of Audit and Inspection(BAI) official in charge of the audit.

The news came as the Foreign Ministry is in the middle of a spying scandal involving a Korean embassy official in Libya, and the North African nation’s threat to cut off Korean business if the contretemps isn’t resolved to its satisfaction.

The BAI announced the result of its audit on the ministry and its diplomatic missions in 16 countries in Africa and Latin America. The audit, conducted between February and April, focused on management efficiency, personnel management and budget execution. The audit is conducted annually, but the overseas missions subject to the audit differ each year.

The BAI said shutting down embassies is leading to a reduction of business ties between Korea and African countries, and said around $1.3 billion in exports to Africa may have been lost as a result.

“It may not be directly correlated, but if embassies are closed, those at the embassies in charge of mediating between Korean companies and governments or companies in Africa are also gone, and that affects business,” said the BAI official.

The shortage of embassies in Africa is also making it hard to manage Official Development Assistance, through which Korea is trying to improve its image, the BAI said. It also affects Korea’s ability to get African countries to vote for its attempts to hold international events.

In June, a South Korean embassy official in Libya was deported for spying. The public has criticized the ministry for not properly dealing with the issue before it ballooned into a serious diplomatic incident.

The BAI also pointed out inefficient personnel management not only at the Africa diplomatic posts but also at posts in other countries.

It said the Foreign Ministry stationed 73 high-ranking officials, 27 more than required, at ministry headquarters in Seoul, while sending 33 fewer people than necessary to overseas diplomatic posts.

It also found an uneven workload in embassies.

It said among 40 embassies in the 16 countries, two embassies are dealing with at least 50 assignments per person a day, but 16 others are dealing with fewer than five.

Some illegalities by staff in the overseas posts were also disclosed by the BAI.

The agency said two staff members of the Korean embassy in Kazakhstan, including a consul in charge of visas, issued visas to unqualified Kazakhs in May and June of last year. The BAI demanded punitive measures.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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