Lee fills vacancies, shuffles cabinet

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Lee fills vacancies, shuffles cabinet

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In a long-awaited cabinet reshuffle, President Lee Myung-bak announced yesterday his nominees for culture and knowledge economy ministers, along with appointees for four more minister-level posts.

Grand National Representative Choung Byoung-gug was nominated to be Lee’s new minister of culture, sports and tourism, while Choi Joong-kyung, senior secretary to the president for economic affairs, was named minister of knowledge economy.

Those posts have been vacant since Lee’s botched cabinet reshuffle in August, when his nominees for culture minister and knowledge economy minister bowed out after confirmation hearings disclosed illegalities and other skeletons in their closets.

Choung is a three-term lawmaker who currently heads the National Assembly’s Committee on Culture, Sports, Tourism, Broadcasting and Communications. The 52-year-old Gyeonggi native is a specialist in culture and media policies.

Choung played a key role in the ruling party’s efforts to revise the nation’s media laws last year, despite fierce opposition from liberal politicians.

After winning a legislative election in 2000 to represent Gyeonggi’s Yangpyeong and Gapyeong counties, Choung was re-elected twice more. He has also filled key posts within the Grand National Party, including as secretary general. During Lee’s 2007 presidential campaign, Choung was in charge of media relations.

Choi is a veteran finance official who has served in key finance posts in the government and Blue House.

The 54-year-old native of Gyeonggi passed the civil service exam in 1978, beginning his career as a finance official. He was appointed vice minister at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance when Lee took office in February 2008 and pushed a weak won policy to boost the country’s exports during the recent financial crisis.

Earlier this year, Choi was named Lee’s senior secretary for economic affairs.

Along with those nominations, Lee announced nominations for four more minister-level positions.

Chung Dong-ki, a former senior secretary to the president for civil affairs, was named the new head of the Board of Audit and Inspection.

Former Supreme Court Justice Kim Young-ran - the first woman to sit on the highest court - was named head of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission.

Kim Dong-soo, president of the Export-Import Bank of Korea, was named chairman of the Fair Trade Commission. Kim Seok-dong, former vice finance minister, was named head of the Financial Services Commission.

Lee also named 10 new aides for his presidential secretariat, appointing Ahn Kwang-chan, a retired Army general, to head the newly created Center for National Crisis Management. The senior presidential secretary post was created after North Korea’s two deadly attacks on the South this year.

Two of Lee’s former presidential aides also made comebacks to the Blue House yesterday when the president appointed Lee Dong-kwan, his former senior secretary for public affairs, to be special adviser for media policy and Park Heong-joon, former senior secretary to the president for political affairs, as special adviser for social affairs.

The timing of yesterday’s announcements came as a surprise as it coincided with another sensitive decision - the announcement of companies to receive broadcast licenses for general programming channels.

Dismissing speculation that the announcements were linked, Hong Sang-pyo, the senior secretary to the president for public affairs, said the cabinet appointments were announced to get things concluded before the end of this year.

“It’s true that some posts have been left vacant for some time,” Hong said. “The president believed it was appropriate to conclude the appointments before the end of this year in order to have a fresh, new start.”

While the ruling Grand National Party backed the president’s choices and promised cooperation in confirmation hearings for the ministers, opposition parties reacted furiously to the reshuffle.

“It was a decision made out of a spoils system to benefit Lee’s aides at the end of his term,” Cha Young, Democratic Party’s spokeswoman, said. “It was an arrogant, high-handed and shallow decision.”

The main opposition party also vowed to scrutinize the nominees thoroughly at confirmation hearing to “remove whomever is necessary.”

Democratic Labor Party spokeswoman Wu Wi-yeong said the Blue House made the worst choices, even after six months of deliberation.

The party expressed particular hostility toward the appointments of Choung as culture minister and Lee Dong-kwan as the special media policy adviser.

While Choung was described as the villain who had promoted the “evil” media laws, the party called Lee “garbage that isn’t worth recycling.”

The conservative Liberty Forward Party also criticized the appointments.


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

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