What’s with the Blue House?President Park Geun-hye has apologized for the sexual assault scandal involving her spokesman Yoon Chang-joong during her first official trip to Washington and vowed to get to the bottom of the case and hold related officials accountable. The apology, following an earlier one in April involving her recurring appointments fiasco, proves that her administration is still struggling with a personnel-affairs dilemma.
In the latest apology, Park defined the scandal as a grave incident for the country. The scandal goes far beyond an individual level as it was a result of complicated factors. For instance, ethics at the Blue House have obviously taken an alarming turn considering the kind of behavior by a senior member on what must have been an otherwise busy trip to Washington. There are rumors that the public relations office led by senior secretary Lee Nam-ki is fraught with discord that led to the critical delay (26 hours) in reporting the case to the president. It appears the Blue House ordered Yoon to immediately return to Seoul and avoid the Washington police, which are aggravating the scandal.
Various factors demand a comprehensive set of prescriptions. President Park should stop appointments based on her own judgment and take into account the real qualifications for high government posts. A recommendation by the chief of staff would be desirable instead of relying on her narrow-focused selections. The president must also listen to other aides’ views on her choices.
Second, the presidential secretary for public relations and the Blue House spokesperson must have the integrity and ability to promote the administration’s philosophy with the media and other opinion leaders. The president must uphold principles in designing her new PR team at the presidential office.
The Blue House and other government ministries must come up with detailed ways to establish ethics with senior secretaries taking the lead. In the 1970s, the Park Chung Hee government banned Blue House staff from carrying any name cards to avert the possibility of power abuse.
President Park faces two big challenges: Heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula and deepening economic woes from a weaker yen and low growth. The sexual assault scandal makes citizens wonder about the Blue House’s competency to handle those bigger challenges. Park must change and that must be followed by similar changes by the chief of staff and senior secretaries.