President Moon replaces three senior secretaries
Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) CEO Kim Jo-won was named to replace Cho Kuk, the president’s apparent pick for justice minister, as the senior secretary for civil affairs.
Moon also replaced two senior secretaries - one for job creation, Jung Tae-ho, and one for civic and social affairs, Lee Yong-sun - as they intend to run in next year’s general elections.
Cho and Jung are quitting their Blue House jobs after more than two years of service. They joined the top office with the launch of the liberal Moon administration in May 2017. Lee is leaving the Blue House relatively early, after only assuming his post in June last year.
Hwang Deok-soon, secretary for job creation, has been promoted to succeed Jung. Lee’s post has been filled by Kim Geo-sung, former head of the Korean branch of Transparency International.
Senior secretaries to the president hold vice-ministerial-grade positions.
Noh Young-min, presidential chief of staff, made the announcement in the Blue House press room. It’s the first time that Noh, a former lawmaker and ambassador to China, has spoken formally in front of the media since he took up his current post in January.
Cho, a former law professor, has been a prime target of political attacks from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP). The conservative party argues that Cho should be held responsible for having failed to properly screen the qualifications of many ministerial nominees over the past two years.
Cho is also determined to press ahead with a reform of the state prosecution, which is often accused of being politically swayed. The LKP is strongly opposed to the government’s moves to establish an independent unit specializing in investigating corruption by high-ranking officials and to give the police more authority and rights.
In a departure message, Cho said he expresses an “intention of respect” toward some opposition parties and media that have ferociously criticized him and directed “bitter jeers” at him.
“It was a burden that [I] have to endure willingly as a senior civil servant,” he said. He also admitted that he has caused public worries while carrying out his duty at the Blue House due to “lack of ability and foolishness.”
His successor, Kim, served as secretary for civil service discipline in 2005 under the Roh Moo-hyun administration. At that time, Kim worked with Moon, who was senior presidential secretary for civil affairs and justice.
Kim also worked for a long time at the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI), the state audit agency.
Moon reportedly plans to carry out a cabinet shake-up before mid-August, which will likely affect several ministerial posts, including that of justice minister.
If the president nominates Cho to become the new justice minister, it would usher in another round of political disputes, especially in the confirmation hearing process at the National Assembly.
On Thursday, Moon appointed Yoon Seok-youl, a reform-minded veteran prosecutor, as prosecutor general. Now in his third year in office, Moon is also likely to replace some of his Blue House secretaries not long after the cabinet reshuffle.
In the previous replacement of top aides in late June, Moon appointed Kim Sang-jo, then chief of the Fair Trade Commission, as chief of staff for policy and Lee Ho-seung, then vice finance minister, as senior secretary for economic affairs.
Heading toward the halfway point of his five-year tenure, Moon is apparently seeking to head off discipline problems among Blue House officials and other civil servants, some observers said.