Who’s taking responsibility?
The author is political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Since President Moon Jae-in was more eager to recruit women onto his staff and for senior cabinet positions than previous presidents, they have become more frequently exposed to controversies over public policy. Land Minister Kim Hyun-mee was blamed for fanning apartment prices and property taxes, former Justice Minister and presidential-hopeful Choo Mi-ae was notorious for her war with former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, and former Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha received scorn for watering down the power of the foreign ministry by giving into political influence. Their eligibility was questioned upon appointment and each courted controversy while in office. Yet they had the full backing of the president at all times.
Another woman that has steadfast protection from President Moon is his Senior Secretary for Personnel Management Kim Oe-sook. They have known each other for 30 years. Upon finishing her time at the Judicial Research & Training Institute in 1992 after passing the bar exam, she knocked on the door of Moon’s humble law firm in Busan to become a lawyer on labor affairs. Moon must have been impressed by this lawyer from Seoul National University who found him a role model and wished to follow in his footstep.
After being elected president, Moon named Kim Minister of Government Legislation although she had no administrative experience. In May 2019, she was brought into the Blue House as senior secretary for personnel affairs. But a string of appointments caused controversy. Lee Yong-gu was appointed vice justice minister despite his assault of a taxi driver. Lim Hye-sook, Minister of Science and ICT, allowed her family to accompany her on overseas business trips. Oceans and Fisheries Minister nominee Park Jun-young withdrew over embarrassment about his wife’s smuggling of expensive china from London.
Yet the presidential screening team under Kim Oe-sook approved him. In March, public rage had been boiling over a scandal related to employees of Korea Land and Housing Corp. engaged in real estate speculation in locations for New Town projects with inside information. How she failed to see the red flags of Kim’s real estate holdings is bewildering.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum defended the Blue House, arguing there is a limit to checking the qualifications of candidates since the intelligence office is not included in the screening process as in the past. But a proper vetting of Kim Gi-pyo’s records didn’t require any help from the National Intelligence Service. A call to any realtor in his neighborhood could tell the transactions had been fishy. Instead of being anti-corruption, he was full of corruption.
As opposition leader, Moon criticized appointments under President Park in 2015 after three prime minister nominees stirred controversy. At the time, he asked why nobody was taking responsibility.
But nobody takes responsibility in his administration, too. Cho Hyun-ok, predecessor of Kim Oe-sook, was appointed ambassador to Germany despite her repeated failures in finding the right candidates for government offices. Moon’s secretary for appointments were both women. It is commendable that Moon has faith in women and wanted to break the glass ceiling. But such plum opportunities should have been given to individual women who were fit for the job.