[Viewpoint] Blue House should be ethics beaconThe Blue House, in essence, has served as a war headquarters because Korea has virtually been at war against North Korea externally and against the opposition internally. The wars may be silent, but they are brutal wars that would bring the administration down if it lost.
In many cases, the morality of the administration, rather than strategy, has determined its fate. If the administration shows signs of weaknesses as related to morality, the “iron railings” crumble. When Cha Ji-cheol, the chief of the Presidential Security Service in the 1970s, suggested that he would crush the anti-government protesters with tanks, the downfall of the Park Chung-hee administration began. And, when a key Blue House official got involved in a corruption scandal, the Kim Young-sam administration collapsed.
Until the Cha Ji-cheol incident, Park Chung Hee knew very well about the rigorous nature of a war headquarters. In the spring of 1970, President Park Chung Hee ordered that military service evaders be weeded out of the Blue House.
One of the officials who was suspected of dodging military service claimed that he had been a student soldier during the Korean War. Because student soldiers were often undocumented, and there was no counter evidence that he did not serve, the chief of staff, Kim Jeong-ryeom, closed the case.
However, a few days later, it was revealed that the official had been lying about his service. When President Park learned the news, he was furious and demoted the official to another agency. Kim, Park’s chief of staff, recalled that in his tenure of nine years and three months, he had been rebuked harshly twice, and that incident was one of them.
The presidential senior secretary for political affairs, Chung Jin-suk, is a key aide to the president, probably one tenth of the president’s brain. The Blue House secretary now finds himself in the middle of the savings bank scandal. For over three years up to April 2008, Chung served as an outside board member of Samhwa Mutual Savings Bank. This bank’s operation was suspended in January. In a written explanation, he claimed the savings banks were not under scrutiny or considered a problem at the time.
He may be right about the situation back then. However, the problem is his perception of the problem. He said that he never attended a management meeting or was involved in lobbying activities for the bank. He added that he personally corresponded as an adviser once or twice a year, and he received 2 million won a month for three years for his service and transportation expenses as an outside board member.
He was elected to the National Assembly in 2005 but did not report his service as an outside director. But he claimed that the National Assembly secretariat informed him that he did not have to report the nominal stipend for transportation, and reporting was not compulsory but up to the discretion of the individual lawmaker.
According to Chung’s own words, he gave advice once or twice a year and received 24 million won a year. For three years, he provided advice on three to six occasions and was paid 72 million won, which he called “only a fraction of the transportation expense.”
As for the board position, he said a childhood friend offered him the job when he was unemployed after losing the 2004 election. His initial intention was to make money while he was unemployed. In the following year, he was elected to the National Assembly, however, and he remained in the position. And as of 2010, he reported assets of over 4 billion won. He owns an apartment in Gangnam valued at 1.8 billion won, and he and his wife have 1.6 billion in savings. They also have a membership to Shilla Hotel’s health club, the most luxurious in Korea.
The Blue House secretary’s explanations are the equivalent of the Lee administration’s report to the public, which claims to work for the ordinary people but hurts the hearts of the ordinary citizens.
When the National Assembly hearing begins, the secretary will stand before the citizens.
He will have to explain what makes him so competent to receive 72 million won for giving advice three to six times, how 2 million won per month can be only a fraction of transportation expenses, and why a lawmaker with assets of 4 billion won served on a board that pays 2 million won per month.
The opposition is freely firing at the administration now, with or without grounds.
They know too well how vulnerable the Lee Myung-bak administration is when it comes to the issue of justice and people-friendly policies.
There is no proof that Chung is involved in the savings bank corruption. It cannot, however, provide the rationale for the administration to wage a full-fledged battle against a myriad of critics.
Morality is just as important as lawfulness, and the Blue House has to be the “ethics headquarters” for the administration.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jin