Three of Moon's cabinet picks are called unworthy
Opposition parties said Thursday that at least two out of five people nominated for cabinet posts by President Moon Jae-in are ethically unfit.
The National Assembly wrapped up confirmation hearings for the five nominees on Tuesday, and the opposition People Power Party (PPP) decided to oppose three of them: science minister-nominee Lim Hye-sook, oceans minister-nominee Park Jun-young and land minister-nominee Noh Hyeong-ouk.
The PPP said Moon should withdraw the three nominations or the trio should step down voluntarily. The conclusion was made at a general assembly of lawmakers Thursday morning.
The progressive minority Justice Party, which often acts as an ally of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the Moon administration, said it is vetoing Lim and Park.
While the DP said it didn’t see any problems with the nominees, it remained to be seen if Moon would push through with the appointments. National Assembly approval is not required for Moon to appoint a minister.
“Since Moon took office in May 2017, he has appointed 29 minister-level officials without the opposition parties’ blessings,” Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, newly elected floor leader of the PPP, said Thursday. “I really hope Moon will give a public explanation as to why he is repeatedly nominating unqualified and unethical candidates as ministers.”
Science minister-nominee Lim faced a barrage of ethical questions during her confirmation hearing. She was criticized for suspected academic fraud, 13 address changes allegedly to send her children to better schools, manipulating a real estate property contract and taking her children on business trips.
Oceans and fisheries minister-nominee Park was criticized for his wife’s business activities, which allegedly involved smuggling large quantities of ceramics into Korea from overseas, evading duties.
The PPP said Noh was unfit to be land minister because of his past real estate dealings. As a civil servant, Noh was given a special right to purchase an apartment in Sejong in 2013. He sold it in 2017 for a 100 percent profit. Because he never lived in it, the PPP said it was a classic example of a public servant abusing the system to make money on real estate.
Two of Moon's nominees won bipartisan support. Moon formally appointed Moon Sung-wook minister of trade, industry and energy on Thursday morning after lawmakers unanimously approved a confirmation hearing report earlier this week.
The DP and the PPP also approved Thursday a confirmation report for An Kyung-duk, nominated as minister of employment and labor. The PPP offered a rare compliment on An’s ethical and professional qualifications.
The DP held an emergency meeting to discuss Lim, Park and Noh's fates Thursday morning. Lawmakers who attended the confirmation hearings briefed the leadership.
“There seemed to be no big problem,” said Rep. Han Jun-ho, a DP spokesman. “The opposition parties are just nitpicking. There are a few issues, but we believe they are not serious flaws compared to some cases in the past.”
He said the standing committees that handled the confirmation hearings of the three nominees must negotiate with the opposition parties to find an amicable resolution. “We have not made a political decision yet,” he said.
According to the law governing the confirmation process, the National Assembly is supposed to hold a confirmation hearing for a nominee and adopt a report within 20 days after the president makes a request. If the report is not adopted, the president makes another request. If the report is still not adopted in 10 days, the president has the power to appoint the minister without the National Assembly’s consent.
The DP leaders are reluctant to adopt the confirmation reports of Lim, Park and Noh without opposition lawmakers’ agreements because parliamentary cooperation is crucial for the confirmation hearings of Prime Minister-nominee Kim Boo-kyum and Prosecutor General-nominee Kim Oh-soo.
Moon needs National Assembly approval to appoint the prime minister, but not the prosecutor general.
The situation is a political dilemma for new DP Chairman Song Young-gil, who vowed cooperation with the opposition. When he met with PPP’s floor leader Kim on Monday, Song promised to have a monthly meeting with his opposition counterpart to improve relations.
“If the ministers are appointed without confirmation reports, we will face criticism that we have not changed even after the last month’s by-election defeats,” said a second-term DP lawmaker. “It is unavoidable that we give up one or two nominees.”
Others, however, said the new DP leadership’s first decision must not be a concession. “If they concede, the party’s supporters will be dissatisfied,” a first-term DP lawmaker said.
The Blue House responded cautiously. “The confirmation process is still ongoing in the National Assembly,” said a high-ranking presidential aide. “We have no stance on the nominees’ fates. We are just observing the situation.”
BY SER MYO-JA, NAM SOO-HYOUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]