More balanced appointments

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More balanced appointments

Fair and balanced appointments have emerged as keywords in the next administration after the two presidential candidates - Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party and Moon Jae-in of the opposition Democratic United Party - pledged to appoint officials in a regionally balanced manner if elected. While Park vowed to get rid of the Honam (South and North Jeolla) and Yeongnam (South and North Gyeongsang) administrations, Moon promised to release quarterly data showing the results of evenly distributed appointments across the board. Both candidates’ pledges mark a radical departure from the past.

Park’s political base is in Daegu and North Gyeongsang, and Moon, like his former boss Roh Moo-hyun, in Honam despite hailing from Busan like Roh. Yeongnam and Honam have alternately monopolized appointment power for almost half a century since Park Chung Hee took power in 1961. If Yeongnam people took up most of the high government posts, a Honam regime came along and took the power back in the next election.

The numbers prove it. In the Kim Young-sam administration, 18.8 percent of government posts above the deputy-ministerial level came from South Gyeongsang, and in the Kim Dae-jung administration, 21.4 percent came from Gwangju and South Jeolla, followed by 21.4 percent from Busan and South Gyeongsang (Roh Moo-hyun administration) and 20.9 percent from Daegu and North Gyeongsang (Lee Myung-bak administration). A bigger concentration of power can be seen in pivotal posts of the government like the head of the National Intelligence Agency, chief secretary to the president, prosecutor general, and heads of National Police Agency and National Tax Service.

The first mechanism for a new administration to distinguish itself from past governments is personnel affairs. Government officials, in particular, watch closely allocations of public offices at the start of the government. If the new government repeats the old practice of appointments based on regionalism and treating it like war trophies, officials will turn their faces away from their new bosses and resist the reform drive of the new president.

Balanced appointments should be based on an effective personnel system. First of all, a president must pick a neutral prime minister so he can broadly exercise his rights to recommend ministers to the president - as guaranteed by the Constitution - rather than pick nominees to the ruling clique’s taste. Ministries and public companies also must establish an objective personnel system including recommendations and screening committees. The new president must resist the temptation to allocate war trophies to campaign staff, too.

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