Setting policies, selecting peopleAfter two of her handpicked nominees to become prime minister bowed out amid controversy, President Park Geun-hye took the unprecedented step of keeping Chung Hong-won in the prime ministerial post. Her decision comes two months after he resigned to take responsibility for the government’s poor handling of the Sewol ferry sinking.
This fiasco demands dramatic changes to the president’s recruiting style, the talent pool for government positions, legislative confirmation hearings and the way the media scrutinizes candidates for senior public offices. Placing the right people in senior posts is imperative for Korean politics. Without a solution to the way we fill senior government posts, none of the pressing work facing us - in particular, instilling a culture of safety in our society - can possibly be accomplished.
Legislative hearings to confirm presidential nominations for senior public offices have helped to contain the misuse of presidential authority since they were adopted in 2000. Candidates for posts like prime minister and deputy prime minister had to bow out after they were exposed by lawmakers. Some had to exit in disgrace after dirt in their private lives was ruthlessly dug up. But over-eagerness by politicians has turned the hearings into venues for the settling of personal vendettas instead of objective evaluations of candidates’ qualifications and ethical standards. The opposition sometimes uses the hearings for political purposes, regarding some of the candidates as bargaining chips to gain the upper hand in negotiations with the ruling party on other issues. The ruling and opposition sides usually stick to their ends of the political axis in their attitudes toward the candidates. Instead of scrutinizing a candidate’s fitness, confirmation procedures became political contests. The procedures must change to respect the privacy and reputations of the individuals nominated for public office.
After several appointment failures, Park finally decided to create a senior secretariat post in charge of appointments. The secretary will be required to have good judgment about people and their backgrounds, reputations and political stances.
The administration cannot afford more failures in appointments. President Park places a high priority on loyalty. Going forward, she must be more open-minded in order to broaden her picks. The public must be confident that her choices are made in the public interest. The president can’t lose public confidence in her policies because of her choices in people.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 28, Page 30