How not to choose ministers

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How not to choose ministers

President Moon Jae-in has withdrawn his nomination of Cho Dong-ho as minister of science and ICT. On the same day, Choi Jeong-ho — Moon’s pick to head the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport — also stepped down. With the new developments, two out of seven nominees to head top positions in the Moon administration dropped out.

Coupled with Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom’s voluntary resignation earlier over deepening suspicions related to real estate deals and Moon’s first cancellation of his nomination for a ministerial post, the appointment fiasco poses a grave challenge to the government’s screening system. And yet, the Blue House was relaxed about it.

Yoon Do-han, the Blue House senior secretary for public relations, came up with the awkward explanation that the presidential office would have eliminated Cho’s name from the reshuffle if it had known about his attending a non-qualified academic conference overseas. “Because he did not inform the Blue House of the meeting, the staff under the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs could not filter him out in advance,” he said. His remarks seemed to blame the nominee for the presidential secretary’s failure to scrutinize him.

Problems with Cho do not end there. He had been suspected of becoming the owner of several houses through property speculation and helping his son work as an intern at a public corporation and serve in the military under favorable conditions. Suspicions related to his son’s luxurious life while studying overseas also triggered controversy.

Moon’s nominations expose a systemic problem: if the presidential office had worked thoroughly to scrutinize its choices in advance, the two nominees in question could not have appeared in the confirmation hearings. As two of the seven nominees dropped out amid public outrage, those who recommended them regardless should be held accountable. But they are keeping their jobs.

Opposition parties are threatening to force two other controversial nominees — Kim Yeon-chul, the unification minister nominee, and Park Young-sun, the minister of SMEs and startups nominee — to step down. Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Cho Kuk and Secretary for Personnel Affairs Cho Hyun-ock have made mistakes repeatedly with reshuffles. The screening system under the two does not help the administration at all. Their irresponsibility as gatekeepers led to a personnel disaster. The Blue House must repair its poor recommendation and screening system before it is too late.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 1, Page 30
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