[Viewpoint] Nobody’s perfect

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[Viewpoint] Nobody’s perfect

“Who would you marry: a woman who’s ugly but rich, or one who’s pretty but poor?”

“How ugly is she?”

The dialogue between two comedians on television says a lot about our society. Thanks to advanced and sophisticated plastic surgery technology, appearances can be fixed with a bit of money. You probably get the same response from Korean women.

We can throw a similar question of choice to corporate executives.

“Who would you hire: someone who’s well qualified, but with personal flaws, or one who’s incompetent but flawless?”

The executive is highly likely to retort, “How flawed is he?” Once in a corporate community, personal flaws can be diffused and tamed through training and discipline, but transforming incompetence into competence can be challenging. The thing about incompetence is that it can be contagious and poisonous wherever it exists.

What kind of answer would we get if we ask the same type of question to the general public? The recent confirmation hearings for candidates for prime ministerial and cabinet posts suggest they prefer anyone without individual flaws.

Whether they are competent or not is secondary. Politicians on the questioning side dogged the prime minister-designate with allegations of bribery connections with a corrupt businessman. Candidates for ministerial posts were strafed with questions about their illegal wealth and residential shenanigans.

The prime minister, according to the Constitution, is someone who aides the president and oversees the administrative offices at his command. He or she must act as the top executive in case the president suddenly cannot continue in office. But we heard nothing about the candidates’ ability in leadership, administrative capacity, views on key state affairs like North Korea, health, or even skills in foreign languages.

The confirmation hearing was introduced in June 2000 to test and sift candidates for senior government offices in regard to their abilities and qualifications for governance. But of the 11 candidates who dropped out after dissection by politicians during the past 10 years of confirmation hearing, none were evaluated on his or her administrative competence. They were mostly chastised for personal or family wrongdoings.

I’m not saying figures with a history of ethical flaws and corruption should be completely free to take up high-profile government posts. But candidates for senior posts should be judged on their abilities as well as standards in ethics so we can have less incompetence in governance.

A bisected country surrounded by powerful countries is desperately in need of accomplished and wise state leaders. We should remember that we lost our nation a century ago because of incompetency in governance.

A new hearing will be held to evaluate new candidates for the prime ministerial and ministerial posts. The story of Hwang Hee (1363-1452), regarded as one of the greatest chancellors during the Joseon Dynasty, can be a reference for evaluating a candidate for a government post.

On an individual note, Hwang Hee was far from perfect. His son had been questioned for embezzling royal assets, and his son-in-law punished a district head because he failed to flatter his ego. Hwang Hee used his power to delay investigation into the affairs. The man would not have survived today’s confirmation hearings.

He was sent into exile for opposing the succession of King Sejong to the throne. Sejong could have left him to rot in rural exile. But the wise king regarded Hwang Hee’s insight and administrative abilities highly and placed him in high-profile jobs.

The foundation of the 500-year-old Joseon Dynasty had been laid under the reign of King Sejong. Few historians will disagree that many of its accomplishments can be attributed to Hwang Hee, who served as Sejong’s top aide for 18 years.

King Sejong presented a royal gift of a chair and cane to the 70-year-old chancellor, lauding him as a great asset to the world with wisdom that spread over millions of state affairs.

“You are truly the state’s bedrock and my trustful subject,” he told Hwang Hee, according to Sejong-era chronicles.

*The writer is national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Choi Hyung-kyu
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