After the hearingsRepercussions from the latest confirmation hearings linger as if all the rubbish is still scattered around us. But a feeling of desolation isn’t the only hangover from the scrutinizing process. Rather, Korean society moves on - albeit slowly - toward a “cleaner and fairer society.”
Since the start of our national economic development in the 1960s, Korean society has strived to achieve high-speed growth, neglecting pivotal elements of democracy - fairness, transparency and justice - in the process. Our economy attained developing status around the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but soon was engulfed by the huge wave of the democratic movement, labor disputes and ideological battles.
It was during the Kim Young-sam administration in 1993 when morality of high government officials first emerged as a major issue of our society. In a shocking moment, the public witnessed the illegal and immoral behaviors of high public officeholders, including lawmakers and judges, who accumulated wealth in illegitimate ways.
In 1995, former presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo received punishment for accumulating astronomical amounts of slush funds. Since then, some improvement has been made at the presidential level, even though there are still doubts over the transfer of Kim Young-sam’s 1992 presidential campaign funds to an account of the National Security and Planning Agency, and doubts over Kim Dae-jung’s secret bank accounts. President Roh Moo-hyun’s family was also linked to a bribery scandal. Yet the size of dirty money dwindled enormously, and no presidents have been handcuffed since Chun and Roh Tae-woo.
After confirmation hearings were required for nominees for prime minister in 2000, the process later extended to the ministerial level. Since then, two candidates for prime minister and one candidate for chairman of the Board of Audit and Inspection failed to pass scrutiny at the National Assembly. One nominee for prime minister and four nominees for ministerships resigned voluntarily, and presidents withdrew nominations for three ministership candidates. A total of 11 designates for high public offices were filtered out through the scrutinizing process - four during the Democratic Party administration and seven in the Grand National Party administration.
Of course, the screening system is not perfect. But it plays a role in scrutinizing the morality of public office seekers. The standard the public requires of them is higher than ever before. It is high time for society to get rid of all the corruptions of the past and establish a moral standard formulated by the hearings as the overarching moral values of our society.