Tread carefullyThe nation’s bureaucrats are unsettled by an announcement made by new Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs Kim Jo-won to launch a special probe into public office discipline. The inspection will be focused on “behaviors that go against public sentiment,” according to a press release.
The announcement said that the presidential office of civil affairs will take “stern action” against government employees found to have caused “serious damage to the dignity of public office” with behaviors going against “public sentiment.” What constitutes as behavior that goes against public sentiment was not explained.
Government employees are naturally cofounded over what language and behavior they must watch. All government workers are focused on addressing challenges from Tokyo’s embargoes after Korea lost its preferential status on exports from the neighboring country largely responsible for supplying key components, parts and equipment to Korea’s mainstay industries.
Anyone abusing the confused state for selfish gain would have to be questioned and punished. But the wording is so ambiguous that it raises suspicions about the motive behind the special internal inspection.
Who defines public sentiment and what gives a presidential secretary the right to make a judgment? Kim could give the impression that the presidential office is stretching its authority to command government workers as if we are in the authoritarian age.
The government has recently been demanding a more proactive role from public servants, who have become subdued because of the government’s relentless investigations of past wrong doings involving senior government officials. The nation’s democracy could be impaired if freedom of expression and thought, as well as discussion, are suppressed.
The thought is more dangerous if the probe is aimed at encouraging more anti-Japanese sentiment. If public employees are pushed to spearhead a boycott against Japanese brands, the authenticity behind the civilian campaign could be damaged.
The Jung District office — whose jurisdiction covers downtown shopping districts, including Myeong-dong and popular tourist destinations like Namsan Tower — faced a strong public backlash for hoisting flags with “No Japan” wordings across the streets.
They came down hours later and led to an apology from the district head for the actions that could give the wrong impression to Japanese tourists visiting Seoul.
Senior aides to President Moon Jae-in should be extra discreet during sensitive times like these, which require delicate diplomacy.
We advise Civil Affairs Secretary Kim not to go down the same controversial path of his predecessor Cho Kuk.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 7, Page 30