Confirmation hearings off to a rocky start

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Confirmation hearings off to a rocky start

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and minor opposition Justice Party (JP) have announced that they will not attend a confirmation hearing for prime minister nominee Han Duck-soo scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. The two parties based their decision on Han’s “refusal to submit related documents” needed to clear growing suspicions over the overly generous pay he received from Kim & Chang, the largest law firm in Korea, after retirement and the details about the lucrative sales of his wife’s paintings to large companies in Korea. The PPP and JP demanded that President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s transition committee present the relevant documents in return for rescheduling the date for Han’s confirmation hearing.

Despite their frustration over the documents, it is very inappropriate for the two parties to cancel the scheduled hearings just a day before. If a prime minister nominee fails to get approval from the National Assembly, he or she cannot be appointed by the president. After President-elect Yoon pledged to give his prime minister more powers than before, he is expected to exercise wider jurisdictions over administering the Cabinet under the new government.

The DP and JP must allow the public to judge Han’s qualifications as prime minister through televised confirmation hearings. But Rep. Yun Ho-jung, the hard-line emergency committee chair of the DP, drew a line by saying, “The number of suspicions raised by the press so far are powerful enough to make him inappropriate to serve as prime minister.” The two parties must stop hampering the confirmation hearing process.

At the same time, the prime minister nominee must look back to see if he faithfully submitted pertinent documents to the lawmakers. Members of the DP and JP criticized Han for not handing them over citing privacy, business secrets and other reasons. Han is suspected of having received hefty advisory fees while serving as head of the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) and an advisor for Kim & Chang after retirement as prime minister in 2007. Han should cooperate with the two parties’ demand for the submission of records to help ensure the people’s right to know.

The legislature could not fix confirmation hearing schedules yet for nominees for 10 heads of government ministries — including health and welfare minister nominee Chung Ho-young, who is suspected of having received favors for his two children’s admissions into a top-rated medical school, and Prof. Kim In-chul, a former president of the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and Yoon’s nominee for education minister, who is under suspicion over his son receiving a Fulbright scholarship. Confirmation hearings must be held as soon as possible so these nominees can get public scrutiny. An evolving battle over Yoon’s nominations ahead of the June 1 local elections rings alarms for Korea’s democracy. If the new administration cannot appoint 18 ministers in two weeks’ time, only the people will suffer.
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