Foreign Ministry faces tough times

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Foreign Ministry faces tough times


President Lee Myung-bak speaks to government ministers and vice ministers at a workshop conference at the Blue House yesterday on the direction of state affairs in light of the government’s efforts to create a “fair society.” By Cho Mun-gyu

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has come under intense pressure with the expected departure of Minister Yu Myung-hwan over an alleged nepotism scandal involving his daughter.

Yu’s resignation offer on Saturday leaves a sudden vacuum in the country’s diplomatic efforts just weeks before several key events, while the ministry’s recruitment procedures are also coming under close examination.

Yu decided to give up his post after his daughter was hired for a mid-level director post days earlier.

The appointment of Yu’s successor could take more than a month since the Lee Myung-bak administration must still name a prime minister after the previous nominee, Kim Tae-ho, withdrew because of corruption allegations. The prime minister is the only person empowered by the Constitution to recommend a cabinet minister to the president.

The absence of a foreign minister comes as Korea must prepare for the annual session of the UN General Assembly this month and the G-20 Summit in Seoul in November. Yu was the longest-serving cabinet minister in the Lee administration and was seen as a pivotal figure in guiding policy on North Korea and making arrangement for the G-20 Summit.

Possible replacements for Yu include Kim Sung-hwan, senior secretary for foreign affairs at the Blue House, and Lee Tae-sik, a former ambassador to the United States.

The government is also probing recruitment procedures at the ministry to see if children of top diplomats have been given jobs in the wake of the scandal involving Yu’s daughter.

Yu Hyun-sun, 35, and two other contract workers have left their posts at the Foreign Ministry as the Ministry of Public Administration and Security investigates the recruitment process on orders from the Blue House to discover if there is any evidence of improper favoritism.

The three are among seven contract workers suspected of having received favoritism over other applicants because they have family ties in the ministry. The administrative ministry said they obtained recruitment records yesterday.

According to records released by the Foreign Ministry yesterday, 41 percent of those that passed the special diplomatic exam for those with English-language skills between 1997 and 2003 were children of diplomats. The special exam was abolished in 2004.

The Foreign Ministry was accused last week of bending its recruitment rules for Yu’s daughter. Allegedly, the ministry changed the advertized criteria for the contract job to tailor the job to her qualifications.

Another allegation is that the ministry dispatched senior ministry officials to participate in the job interview for Yu’s daughter.

The Foreign Ministry said yesterday that the recruitment of contract employees had been supervised by the administrative ministry and not the Foreign Ministry. It said that “the recruitment exams were all announced publicly for open competition, so there could not have been favoritism.”

Foreign Ministry officials held emergency meetings over the weekend. Vice Foreign Minister Shin Kak-soo will be acting foreign minister until a successor is appointed. “Yu probably made the decision [to resign] to stave off any negative impact on the administration’s goal to create a ‘fair society,’” said a ministry official.

By Christine Kim []
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