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Opinion

[Editorial] New weather czar

It is annoying that the new head of the Korea Meteorological Administration is involved in a controversy over his criminal record for a drunken hit-and-run incident. Opposition members of the National Assembly’s Environment-Employment Committee demanded that Cho Suk-joon step down from his new office and blamed President Lee Myung-bak for making yet another flawed appointment to a high office.

Cho, a graduate of Seoul National University’s Department of Atmospheric Science, was the weather specialist reporter for KBS when he was charged with causing the death of a man while driving his car under the influence of alcohol in Yeouido, Seoul, in 1984. He was indicted without detention and was sentenced to a fine after reaching a settlement with the family of the dead.

Critics assert that Cho’s criminal conviction is serious enough to disqualify him from taking the KMA office. They further express suspicion that the state-run broadcaster Cho had worked for might have lent its undue influence during the military-controlled period to lighten his punishment which should have been a jail term. Cho quit KBS but continued to work in positions related to weather, most recently as president of the Korea Meteorological Society, an association of experts in climate.

We feel sorry that Cho has lived with a stigma for a long time because of an accident 27 years ago. The Blue House said he was appointed although it was aware of Cho’s criminal record. Presidential aides reported Cho explained the circumstances to them “showing repentance.”

The circumstances in 1984 are very different from those of the present, and now is time when false registration of home address to buy a property is regarded as a serious impropriety affecting appointment to a public office. Yet, both the president and the new KMA chief himself seem to believe that the mishap in 1984 does not pose an obstacle to his assuming public service career.

Having no intent to heed to the demands of his critics, Cho has only one way of earning public forgiveness: trying his utmost to make accurate weather forecasts, leading 1,300 technical and administrative personnel posted at more than 70 weather facilities across the country.

Cho is the ninth head of the KMA since it was upgraded in 1990 to a central administration agency with a vice minister-level chief and is the first non-bureaucrat appointee. His recruitment reflects President Lee’s recognition of the importance of weather service in people’s lives as well as in industrial activities in this age of climate change, with frequent natural disasters. In 2009, professor Kenneth Crawford at the University of Oklahoma, a renowned American weather expert, was invited to lead a special team committed to improving the weather service infrastructure and technology.

Crawford has already made significant contributions in his priority tasks such as standardizing the operation of weather radars used by the KMA, the Korean and U.S. Air Force and other organizations and developing a training system for weather forecasters. Perhaps because of these efforts, the KMA has been able to make fairly accurate forecasts of snows and cold spells in this winter, although the latest snowfall along the East Coast was twice as heavy as predicted, being the largest in a century.

Cho Suk-joon’s appointment drew increased public attention to the national weather service, with many people looking to his professional merits to cover the controversy. We hope he will be able to calm the public’s misgivings with good performance in the job.
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