The appointment of Johnny Yune, a former Korean-American comedian and actor, to the post of the Korea Tourism Organization’s auditor general last week casts serious doubt on the Park Geun-hye administration’s often-stated commitment to overhauling state corporations.
Yune, who went to the United States in 1962 on a scholarship, became a U.S. citizen in 1978. He made over 30 appearances on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” and acted in a number of films.
He apparently had little to do with Korea until 1989 when he returned to Seoul and hosted the “Johnny Yune Show,” a KBS late-night talk show that was terminated after one year.
In 2012, Yune played a role in Park’s presidential election campaign as a joint chairperson of the overseas election campaign committee.
There is nothing to indicate that the 78-year-old Yune has any experience related to the tourism industry. Yet, rumors circulated last year following the resignation of KTO head Lee Charm that Yune would fill the post ― rumors that were fanned by the news that Yune had recovered his Korean citizenship. Yune’s name resurfaced earlier this year again in association with the KTO. Eventually, Byun Choo-suk, a former design professor who was part of Park’s presidential election campaign team and later head of the Presidential Transition Committee’s publicity team, was appointed KTO president.
Given Yune’s complete lack of experience in the tourism industry and his involvement in Park’s presidential election campaign, the near-octogenarian’s appointment as a KTO auditor general cannot be but seen as a political appointment, a reward for his contribution to Park’s presidential bid.
During the presidential election campaign, Park pledged there would be no political appointments ― called “parachute” appointments ― during her term. With Yune’s appointment, Park has reneged on that promise once again. Byun’s appointment was a case of political appointment as well.
At a Cabinet meeting on July 22, Park called for the overhaul of state corporations to make them competitive entities. However, with Yune’s appointment to the post of KTO auditor general, the administration has rendered the call for an overhaul of state corporations a hollow slogan.
The state-run agency received a near-failing grade of D in the annual evaluation of state corporations. This year, the KTO is expected to be 22 billion won to 23 billion won in the red. It is hardly a model of efficiency and competitiveness.
It is unfortunate that the local tourism industry ― a sector that is expected to account for 5.8 percent of the country’s GDP this year or some 7.9 trillion won, according to a World Travel and Tourism Council forecast released at the end of March ― is saddled with a state tourism agency helmed by political appointees.
In the aftermath of the Sewol ferry tragedy, Park promised to root out collusion between bureaucracy and the private sector. She took particular aim at the customary practice of former bureaucrats landing private-sector jobs in the fields they previously regulated and supervised, blaming such collusion for the chain of events that led to more than 300 deaths.
For that promise to have any credibility, and for the promise to overhaul state corporations to have any meaning, Park must stop the practice of “parachute” appointments, an earlier promise that she has so far failed to keep.