Time to set up an office for the first lady

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Time to set up an office for the first lady

After a series of controversies related to first lady Kim Keon-hee over her private companions to public occasions, there has been growing demand for the presidential office to regulate her public affairs. The presidential office took the position that it would not create a secretariat devoted to the first lady, claiming there was no need for a separate assistant office to oversee affairs of the first lady.

The presidential office also denied any wrongdoings for hiring a relative of Yoon in the presidential office, as the decision was based on the law on prevention of conflict of interests in public offices.

State management must respect public opinions. President Yoon Suk-yeol won the election primarily by attacking the previous government’s one-sidedness and inwardly ways and by championing the values of fairness and common sense. But his wife’s behavior of mixing private and public affairs —and the recruit of a relative for a job in his office — fall afoul with his campaign pledges.

Negative appraisal of the president has overwhelmed positive approval of him just six weeks into his term. The unconventional ways of his wife contributed to the fall of his approval rating by two percent, which should come under serious attention by Yoon and his aides.

Kim triggered controversy by accompanying a private acquaintance — the wife of a presidential secretary who had donated campaign funds to Yoon — to Yoon’s first overseas trip as head of state to Madrid for the NATO summit. She already baffled the public by bringing her former employee and professor friend to Bongha Village to pay respect to the widow of former President Roh Moo-hyun. But President Yoon brushed off the matter, saying his wife does not have a secretary. He then asked reporters to give her some tips.

President Yoon may think there is no problem with getting some help from his private friends. But if his wife keeps mingling private connections in public affairs, concerns for a private power buildup could rise. As a former prosecutor who investigated former president Park Geun-hye’s private friend Choi Soon-sil and indicted Park for unlawful power abuse should know better than stoke unnecessary concerns about his wife.

During Yoon’s presidential campaign, Kim had pledged to keep her role as the “wife of Yoon — not a first lady — if he is elected president.” Yet she must carry out her public role as the wife of the president. Yoon must set up a secretariat to handle her public affairs for transparent and responsible role. He also must appoint a special inspector to check potential nepotism in officialdom, as he promised in his campaign.
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