Making wise appointments

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Making wise appointments

Saenuri Party lawmaker Lee Hak-jae, who served as the de facto chief secretary to President-elect Park Geun-hye, announced that he will not take any office in the transition team or incoming government. He said he was content with helping Park win the election and will be returning to his place in the legislature now that his campaign work is over. The two-term lawmaker has been serving as the chief secretary to Park since August 2010. One of her closest aides is saying he won’t accept any rewards.

We rarely come across politicians turning down power. Seven inner-circle members of former President Kim Dae-jung, including Kwon Roh-kap and Hahn Hwa-kap, declared that they will not take any government office three months ahead of the presidential election. Other key campaign aides reluctantly offered to stay out as well. Lee’s declaration comes across as fresh because he would have been more than tempted and could have been rewarded with an important office under the new president.

Politicians and officials usually flock around the president-elect after the election. About 68.5 percent of the members on the transition team in the past have been recruited to senior government posts. They vie to impress and win the favor of the president-elect to get on the transition team, which serves more or less like a shadow cabinet. Some even unabashedly made public which ministerial posts they wanted. Some fought over key offices. The power struggle between Chung Doo-un and Park Young-joon during the Lee Myung-bak administration goes back to the transition period.

The service on the campaign battle often has been worn as a war medal. Those previously on the campaign team claimed themselves as part of the inner circle with deeper loyalty to the president. Their presence may have helped in acting out the president’s will, but often hindered the president from recruiting talent from the outside and trusting others. The system also bred cronyism and corruption because the line between favor and work blurred. This is why we have seen replays of key presidential aides summoned by the prosecution and charged for bribery and other irregularities during the last stage of the presidential term.

Moving bigwigs into the administration can demoralize or weaken the ruling party, as has been seen in the appointments of Kim Keun-tae and Chung Dong-young during the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

Politicians can play a vital role in the government. But one must be qualified. A politician should be recruited not because of ties with the president-elect, but because of his or her potential contribution to the government.

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