When it comes to personnel management, President Park Geun-hye started her presidency disastrously: Her first nominees for the prime minister and five other cabinet minister posts had to bow out in the face of ethical problems.
The prime ministerial nominee, Kim Yong-joon, a former senior judge who led Park’s transition team, gave up his nomination amid public outcry over his son’s military service exemption and allegations of real estate speculation.
Five more Cabinet nominees followed suit and exited as past misdeeds and ethical questions dogged them.
Now about 16 months after her inauguration, Park is being haunted again by the specter of personnel mismanagement, as exemplified by the controversial prime ministerial nominee Moon Chang-keuk and, before him, Ahn Dae-hee.
Ahn, a former prosecutor previously respected for his uprightness, integrity and uncompromising attitude, had to give up his nomination due to a public uproar over the fact that he earned 1.6 billion won in just five months after he opened a private legal service last year.
Park’s next choice, Moon, a conservative former journalist, has found himself in a whirlwind of public criticism over controversial past statements and writings.
This time Park and Moon decided to keep the nomination, but both the Ahn and Moon cases show that Park and her aides at Cheong Wa Dae have done little to fix the loopholes in the way they pick candidates for senior posts.
The biggest problem is that Cheong Wa Dae lacks a system to properly vet candidates before they are appointed.
In Ahn’s case, Cheong Wa Dae’s background check ignored or failed to discover the fact that Ahn earned so much money in such a short period through his private practice. The problem was that he could not have earned that amount without benefiting from the practice whereby government officials, judges and prosecutors give favorable treatment to former colleagues who work in the private sector after retirement.
Such collusive connections between officials in government and the judiciary and retired officials, along with revolving-door appointments, were blamed for the lax safety regulations and corruption that led to the sinking of the Sewol, an incident which forced Park to reshuffle the Cabinet.
The Moon case also clearly showed that Cheong Wa Dae did not have an effective mechanism to check the backgrounds of public service candidates.
Moon spent more than 30 years in journalism, writing many news stories, editorials and columns, and after retirement, he taught university students. As an elder at a big protestant church in Seoul, he made lecture-style speeches to the congregation.
Anyone with common sense would first think to look at his articles and speeches to see what kind of man Moon is. It is incomprehensible that Cheong Wa Dae belatedly learned about the controversial articles and speeches Moon made about such sensitive issues as colonial rule, national division, the Korean War, pro-Americanism and comfort women.
This is a time when even a minor plagiarism case involving an entertainer’s master’s thesis can stir up social controversy. Clearly, the presidential office’s ethical standards and the way it vets candidates for senior government jobs have failed to keep up with the times.