Secretaries should assist, not rule

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Secretaries should assist, not rule

“Secretary” is a position in which the status of the holder varies drastically. In the United States and the United Kingdom, a secretary is a ministerial-level official. It is also the executive assistant serving high-level officers at companies and agencies. In French, “secretaire” also refers to two very different positions. Secretaire d’Etat is the minister, while a secretaire is the assistant.

The two jobs are described with the same word because the roots of a minister and an assistant are the same. In the days when not many people were literate, those who could read and write were in charge of state affairs and helped various people with their personal lives. In the Soviet Union and China, a secretary refers to a high-level Communist Party member. Executives of the Workers’ Party in North Korea also hold the title of secretary.

The origin of a secretary is “secretarius” in Latin, which means someone who deals with secrets. A duty of the job is not to disclose confidential information learned while dealing with government documents or helping with the work of important people. A more fundamental etymology is “secernere,” which means “separate” or “dissociate.” A secretary should separate his duties from his self-interest. He should be faithful to the role of an assistant, rather than being the master himself. A secretary could be tempted to cross the line while serving in the position.

In Korean history, there were times when the holders of power and the secretaries were not distinguishable. After King Sejo ousted King Danjong and seized power, he sent his cronies, Han Myeong-hoe, Shin Suk-ju and Gu Chi-gwan, to Seungjeongwon, the Royal Secretariat, and appointed them as Seungji, receiving and delivering the king’s orders. It effectively made Seungjeongwon the most powerful agency. Seungjeongwon is the equivalent to the Blue House Office of Secretaries, and the Seungji are the Blue House secretaries.

Sejo’s decision was made to weaken the function of Uijeongbu, the State Council of Joseon. After dominating the influence of councilors and ministers completely, King Sejo normalized the function of Seungjeongwon. But in the reigns of other kings, the excessive concentration of power in Seungjeongwon or the abuse of authority by the Seungji became a problem.

The Blue House secretaries are literally secretaries. The chiefs of staff, the senior secretaries and secretaries are all assisting the president. If they think they are in power, they are mistaking themselves as ministers, not assistants.

*he author is a deputy editor of the JoongAng Sunday. JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 4, Page 35


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