Who’s to blame?President Moon Jae-in on Monday pressed ahead with his appointments of two nominees — Kim Yeon-chul and Park Young-sun as unification minister and SMEs and startup minister, respectively — despite opposition parties’ vehement objections. Denouncing the push as a sign of unwillingness to cooperate, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party has threatened to veto a number of bills related to improving the people’s lives, including bills to extend flextime and fix the minimum wage. Due to his relentless push for the two appointments, Moon may have to pay a high political price at a special session of the legislature where the government must pass supplementary budgets needed to cover the damage from massive wildfires in Gangwon and tackle air pollution from fine dust.
We understand Moon’s agony: if the two nominees fail to land their jobs, there could be four vacancies in top positions of his administration despite his ambitious March 8 reshuffle of seven ministers. But Kim Yeon-chul, the nominee for unification minister, called the tragic murder in 2008 of a South Korean tourist in Mount Kumgang by a North Korean guard a “rite of passage” for the reunification of two Koreas, while Park Young-sun, the nominee for SME and startup minister, is suspected of violating the political fund act to help her husband, a U.S. lawyer, take a case.
Nevertheless, the two nominees have been appointed thanks to their career as aides to Moon’s presidential campaign. Handling personnel affairs should be based on a very careful selection and thorough screening process. If not backed by such systemic support, nominations and appointment will expose loopholes. After being summoned to the National Assembly steering committee, the presidential chief of staff, Noh Young-min, attributed this to the “limitations of screening nominees” instead of “mistakes in probing their suspicious past.” His explanations seem to point to “the invisible hand” at the top. If the Blue House had looked into even the basic facts of their past, it could have averted such a fiasco.
Most of the responsibility falls on the presidential secretaries for civil affairs and personnel affairs because they brought them over just because their boss would appoint them anyway. Yet no one in the Blue House is being held accountable for the appointment fiasco. As a result, 10 nominees have been appointed as ministers without legislative approval since Moon took office 22 months ago. That’s a feat on par with what former President Park Geun-hye achieved during her term.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 9, Page 30