A questionable choice

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A questionable choice

The Board of Audit and Inspection is an independent watchdog with the authority to investigate government wrongdoings and corruption.

Given this lofty role, President Lee Myung-bak’s appointment of Chung Dong-ki - a former senior secretary to the president for civil affairs - to head the agency could seriously undermine the board’s independence.

Regardless of his abilities and character, the fact that the nominee is a close aide to the president makes him ineligible for the position. The National Assembly should make this point clear when it holds a confirmation hearing for Chung.

Unfortunately, this isn’t new, as officials with close ties to the president have headed the Board of Audit and Inspection before. Former Chairman Hwang Young-shi was one of President Chun Doo Hwan’s supporters in the Dec. 12 coup d’etat, while Hahn Seung-hun, who also helmed the board, once fought for democracy alongside President Kim Dae-jung. Neither Hwang nor Hahn accomplished much in terms of uncovering government wrongdoings.

On the other hand, President Kim Young-sam named Lee Hoi-chang, who had no connection to the president, to head the board. Under Lee’s helm, the board launched an extensive crackdown on the military’s defense modernization project. As a result, some 40 military and government officials were charged with various crimes, and officials arrested two former defense ministers and two former chiefs of staff.

The entity that audits the United States government, the Government Accountability Office, operates under the auspices of the U.S. Congress to ensure its independence. Many have argued that Korea should organize the Board of Audit and Inspection in a similar way. The president is rekindling controversy surrounding the institution’s independence by appointing a close aide to lead the organization. Moreover, the candidate is suspected of having connections to the illegal spying activities of the public ethics division of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The administration, now in the fourth year of its five-year term, will have to wrap up various ambitious and controversial projects soon. It is therefore vital that the Board of Audit and Inspection ensures that we have transparent governance. The chief of the agency should be free of any ties to the administration so that it can serve as a government watchdog. The president should not repeat the errors of the past in making key appointments.
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