Unfulfilled terms and promisesDuring her presidential campaign, President Park Geun-hye pointed to the fact that only one of the six police commissioner generals had completed their two-year term since the term was set in 2004, adding that she would make sure the commissioner general would be guaranteed to serve a full term. She made the pledge when she announced her police-related campaign promises at the Saenuri Party headquarters on Oct. 19, 2012. She said that she would help the police organization remain politically neutral, faithful to its original duty and undisturbed by external pressures.
Now, only one commissioner general out of seven has completed a full term, as President Park suddenly replaced Kim Ki-yong when 13 months of his tenure remain unfulfilled. The Blue House made no official explanation as to why Park made the decision. Unofficially, people are saying that the term will be guaranteed for the commissioner general President Park appoints. It’s a lame excuse, and she deserves criticism for breaking her promise.
But Park may want to start anew. Agencies like the prosecutors’ office, the police and the bureau of audit and inspection play key functions in the wielding of the presidential power. So Park may feel it was necessary to appoint someone who understands her administrative philosophy in order to make her government a success. The Democratic Party may have done the same if it had won the election.
Rumors and accusations aimed at the heads of powerful agencies are very common, and they are especially rampant during the transitional period. President Park may have heard various things about Kim Ki-yong. Eo Cheong-soo, who was appointed by former President Roh Moo-hyun, was reappointed by former President Lee Myung-bak, only to leave the office less than a year later.
The term was defined in the National Police Agency Act in order to secure political neutrality and prevent disturbances within the organization due to frequent leadership changes. However, even the best intentions are meaningless if the law is unrealistic and can’t be observed. The controversy is not limited to the NPA chief. The two-year term for the prosecutor general was introduced in 1988, but only six of the 17 prosecutor generals appointed since the law went into effect have served a full term.
Moreover, the chairman of the Board of Audit and Inspection can be replaced by the president. With the launch of the Kim Young-sam administration in 1993, BAI chief Kim Young-joon resigned immediately, and three months after the inauguration of President Lee in 2008, Jeon Yun-churl stepped down. There is talk that the incumbent BAI chairman, Yang Kun, could be replaced, with two years in his tenure remaining. Other public corporation presidents and financial holding company chairmen with predetermined terms are also subject to reshuffle.
At this juncture, it would be better to scrap the term system altogether, as it’s a term in name alone. Or we should establish administrative changes as an exception to the rule. We might as well acknowledge the bitter reality instead of fooling ourselves.
*The author is a deputy political and international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jung-ha