A high-ranking official from the Education Ministry made a tearful apology on Monday amid growing controversy over his remarks that described the public as “nothing but dogs and pigs.”
Na Hyang-wook, the director general of the ministry’s policy planning bureau, apologized for “making inappropriate remarks as a public servant, distressing Korean people and causing a stir,” during a parliamentary meeting in the afternoon.
Na was initially absent from the parliamentary meeting held in the morning, which prompted angry responses and calls for his attendance among lawmakers. The meeting resumed upon his arrival in the afternoon.
Na Hyang-wook, director general of Education Ministry's policy planning bureau attends a parliamentary committee meeting on Monday. (Yonhap)
“I have realized how wrong I was. It happened all because of my carelessness. I am really sorry,” he said. “It took place under the influence of alcohol and I did not intend to say such things.”
A local daily had reported last week that Na described the general public as dogs and pigs at a recent dinner gathering in Seoul with reporters. He reportedly said that the government should just make sure they are fed and alive. The report also quoted him as saying that equality is nothing but an unattainable illusion and there should be a stricter class system in Korea.
As the remarks prompted public outrage, the National Assembly called Na for questioning at its Education Committee. Na, who has withdrawn from his post, did not appear at first citing to his “frail mental and physical condition.
The Education Minister Lee Joon-sik also apologized and vowed strong punishment over his remarks.
Lee said that he plans to take stern action in accordance with the result of the investigation into the case.
“There cannot be any excuse for the inappropriate remarks made by a public servant under any circumstances,” Lee said. “Education officials take this case as an opportunity to make utmost efforts to have a desirable work ethic as a public servant.”
Both ruling and opposition lawmakers lashed out at Na’s remarks as well as the education minister for condoning Na’s absence, and called for his immediate expulsion.
Rep. Lee Jang-woo of the ruling Saenuri Party said, “(Na’s) remarks are just not acceptable. I cannot understand how a high-ranking official can make such comments. We should make it clear what punishment will be imposed on him.”
Rep. Woo Sang-ho, the floor leader of the main opposition The Minjoo Party of Korea, called on the government to expel Na. “We cannot see a person who described the public as dogs and pigs as a public servant receiving a paycheck from taxes.”
Unions also expressed concerns over his remarks in a statement.
“We cannot help but be worried about the future of our education as a high-ranking official in charge of mapping out Korean education policies has old-fashioned viewpoints such as advocating the class system for the top 1 percent,” said a union for the nation’s universities.
A labor union for the nation’s public servants blamed the Park Geun-hye administration’s “authoritarian ruling system,” which led to the appointment of a person with “distorted” views in a key post.
“The Constitution stipulates that public servants serve the public and take responsibility for the public. Na should be expelled from the public post forever,” it said in a statement.
Na, who passed his civil service examination in 1993, previously served as the secretary for the minister and an administrative officer at Cheong Wa Dae under former President Lee Myung-bak. He was promoted to the head of policy planning at the Education Ministry in March.
By Ock Hyun-ju (email@example.com