The exit of two minister nominees this week is yet more evidence of President Park Geun-hye’s personnel mismanagement. The problem is that the end of the latest nomination scandals does not resolve public misgivings about the way she picks candidates for senior government posts.
Chung Sung-keun, Park’s nominee for culture minister, withdrew his name Wednesday in the face of mounting public and opposition criticism.
Chung’s decision to give up nomination followed Park’s decision to cancel her nomination of Kim Myung-soo as education minister, a role that also carries responsibility as the deputy prime minister for education, social and cultural affairs.
Both Chung and Kim’s disgraceful exits were made in different ways, with Chung announcing his decision in a press statement released in his name, while Kim’s replacement by Hwang Woo-yea, a ruling party lawmaker, was announced by Park’s spokesman.
It is believed that the presidential office discussed in what way Chung would quit because Park had been largely expected to stick with Chung despite mounting calls from the opposition. She apparently changed her mind after the opposition threatened to expose another of Chung’s past wrongdoings and even some ruling party lawmakers joined the calls to drop him.
By and large, both Kim, a university professor, and Chung, a former TV journalist, lacked the ethical standards required of senior civil servants. Since his nomination, Kim has been dogged by allegations of plagiarism and other misdeeds. Chung’s problems, like drunken driving, lying in the confirmation hearings about home transactions and drinking alcohol during a break in the hearing, are all hardly light matters.
It is fortunate that this time Park and her aides did not ignore the outcry over her appointees. The controversies over Kim and Chung followed similar debacles over the two nominees for prime minister, which pulled down the president’s otherwise solid approval ratings. Park must have thought about their potential impact on the July 30 parliamentary by-elections.
Whatever the motives and backgrounds might have been, Park made the right decision to abandon Kim and Chung. But that has not ended her problems with personnel management.
The appointment of Hwang is a case in point. Hwang, a former judge and five-term lawmaker, lacks the experience he needs to serve as an education minister and deputy prime minister who will take charge of non-economic affairs. His only involvement in education is that he once led the National Assembly’s Education and Culture Committee.
A former head of the Saenuri Party, Hwang is a member of President Park’s inner circle in the ruling party, like the newly appointed deputy prime minister for economy, Choi Kyung-hwan.
There is enough ground for concern that Park will be encircled by close associates. Some even argue that Park installed Hwang to counter the election of Kim Moo-sung, a member of a party faction not aligned with Park, as new leader of the ruling party.
It also seems that Hwang’s nomination reflects Park’s hope that he will easily pass the personnel screening, especially the parliamentary confirmation hearings. She must know that lawmakers, ruling and opposition alike, tend to be generous toward their colleagues.
Since Park took office in February last year, all 28 lawmakers nominated to top positions ― including the latest appointees Choi and new Gender Minister Kim Hee-jung ― passed the usually rigorous and hostile parliamentary screening.
Park has gone through nightmares, with one after another nominee bowing out amid fierce public uproars over ethical problems, and she may well want to avoid putting her into the same trap again. But too much reliance on politicians would deprive her Cabinet of professional competence. Her efforts to find people who are competent and have high ethical standards should start with the new nominee for culture minister.