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Moon Jae-in’s first nominations reflect will for reform

President Moon Jae-in appears to be sticking to his promise of working toward national unity and higher government transparency, at least in his personnel selections so far.

Since taking office Wednesday, he has nominated and appointed 10 people for key governmental and presidential secretariat positions.

He also reorganized his secretariat into four divisions with eight senior secretaries and two secretaries, from his predecessor’s three divisions and 10 senior secretaries. A new position of senior secretary for jobs was created, while some positions were consolidated.

President Moon Jae-in (third from left) walks with his aides, who were appointed Wednesday and Thursday, at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Thursday. Yonhap
President Moon Jae-in (third from left) walks with his aides, who were appointed Wednesday and Thursday, at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Thursday. Yonhap

Taking office without the usual two-month transition period, Moon is strapped for time to fill key posts. Hours after he was sworn in, Moon announced his prime minister nominee, and named three key aides including his chief of staff. More appointments followed Thursday, filling six posts in the presidential office.

Thursday’s announcement included senior secretaries for civil, personnel and administrative affairs. These positions have often been involved in scandals and rumors of impropriety, most notably during the Park Geun-hye administration, with former Civil Affairs Secretary Woo Byung-woo implicated in a host of allegations.

In a striking departure from recent administrations, Moon chose to fill the civil affairs post with reformist scholar Cho Kuk.

Cho, a Seoul National University law professor, is to be the senior secretary for civil affairs, a post associated more with public prosecutors than scholars. Although critics say Cho’s lack of connection to the prosecution will hamper his duties, Cho has made known his intentions to oversee the reform of legal services.

Simply stating that the presidential secretary for civil affairs has no business becoming involved in a prosecution investigation, Cho said the prosecution’s independence will be guaranteed under the new administration.

Naming Lee Joung-do, a Ministry of Strategy and Finance director general, as the administrative affairs secretary also came as a surprise move. 

Lee Joung-do, a Ministry of Strategy and Finance director general, shakes hand with President Moon Jae-in at presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on May 11, 2017. (Yonhap)
Lee Joung-do, a Ministry of Strategy and Finance director general, shakes hand with President Moon Jae-in at presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on May 11, 2017. (Yonhap)

The post has long been filled by close associates of past presidents. It is considered a position of significant power and influence, which those holding the post have not been above abusing. The most recent example was Park’s Administrative Secretary Lee Jae-man, who was considered to wield significant power within the Park administration.

In contrast, Lee has no ties to Moon and is far removed from the civil service’s elite group.

Lee graduated from Changwon University in the city of the same name in South Gyeongsang Province. He began his career as a low-level official and is said to have worked his way up to his current position at the Finance Ministry.

According to Lee, he was informed of his appointment Wednesday night, while he was reviewing the finances for Moon’s pledges.

The post of personnel affairs secretary was given to Cho Hyun-ock, an academic and the women and family policy chief of the Seoul City government.

Like Cho Kuk, she began her duties with a clear message that she intends to be free from elements that influenced her predecessors.

“Suggestions (for government posts) will be received not only from the party (the ruling Democratic Party of Korea) but from numerous sources,” she told reporters after her appointment was announced.

Cho Hyun-ock, an academic and the women and family policy chief of the Seoul City government, shakes hand with President Moon Jae-in at presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on May 11, 2017. (Yonhap)
Cho Hyun-ock, an academic and the women and family policy chief of the Seoul City government, shakes hand with President Moon Jae-in at presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on May 11, 2017. (Yonhap)

Overall, Moon’s choice for aides and top government offices so far is marked by a lack of geographic and university-related ties to the president.

During his campaign, Moon, who was born and raised in South Gyeongsang Province, promised to address regionalism in government. And as promised, he nominated South Jeolla Province native Lee Nak-yeon for the prime minister post.

His chief of staff Im Jong-seok is also from the southwest, as opposed to Moon’s southeastern home. Im also has little in the ways of political ties to the president. He is considered an associate of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon.

The other eight individuals named so far also lack geographical connections to the president.

Of the 10, three are from the Jeolla provinces, three from Seoul, two from the Gyeongsang provinces and one each are from the Gangwon and Chungcheong provinces.

None of the appointees share the same alma mater with Moon, who graduated from Kyung Hee University.

Another key difference between Moon’s choices and those from the previous administration is their age, the average of which comes to 56.6. The youngest is 50-year-old Kwun Hyuk-ki, the director of the Cheong Wa Dae Press Center, and the oldest is the prime minister nominee, who is 64.

In comparison, the average age of Park’s first Cabinet and secretariat was 59.3. Chung Hong-won, the first prime minister of the Park administration, was 69 when he was nominated in 2013. The youngest in Park’s secretariat was Civil Affairs Secretary Kwak Sang-do, who was 54 at the time of Park’s inauguration.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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