The political debacle that resulted in the exit of the chief financial regulator and the potentially explosive online opinion rigging scandal involving a key ruling party lawmaker expose serious problems with the way the Moon Jae-in administration appoints senior government officials.
First, the resignation of Kim Ki-sik as governor of the Financial Supervisory Service should raise many questions about the way Cheong Wa Dae vets candidates for high-level government positions.
It is easy to imagine that the presidential office’s background investigation of Kim was not thorough enough, as it had scarcely announced Kim’s nomination when a barrage of allegations against him began to come out.
If the Cheong Wa Dae personnel affairs staffers had done their job properly, they could have found that in 2016, Kim, then an opposition lawmaker, donated 50 million won ($46,500) in his political funds collected from his supporters to a think tank he actually ran. He recovered part of it as monthly wages for himself.
They would also have known that Kim made several overseas trips paid for by organizations that were under the oversight of a parliamentary committee of which he was a member.
Those cases led many to believe that Cheong Wa Dae again failed to make a thorough background check and that Kim lacked the level of integrity needed to head an agency that oversees all the financial institutions and firms in the country.
A public opinion survey found that about 51 percent of Koreans wanted Kim to go over the ethical problems, compared with 33 percent who opposed. Given Moon’s popularity is running at around 70 percent, the latest survey findings showed that many of Moon’s supporters opposed Kim’s appointment.
Then Cheong Wa Dae should have made a decision based solely on its assessment of the nominee’s competence, expertise, ethical standards and more importantly, public opinion. Instead, it asked the National Election Commission to review Kim’s cases, with Moon saying that he would determine Kim’s fate in line with the judgement of the commission.
That was a typical case of passing the buck, which was not only irresponsible but also stupid. It had turned out that in 2016 Kim actually made the same inquiry about his donation to the think tank and that he ignored the election watchdog’s reply that it could violate the law. It was easy to expect that the NEC would take the same position this time too.
It was also ill-advised when Cheong Wa Dae -- in order to save Kim -- made a survey of some past cases in which lawmakers made overseas trips paid for by public organizations. It is not strange that this implicit challenge -- “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” -- only added fuel to opposition and the public backlash.
If the case of Kim of the FSS is one of Cheong Wa Dae again failing to properly vet candidate for a key government position and going to the length of protecting him, the snowballing online opinion manipulation scandal involving Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo exposes another weakness of the personnel policy of the Moon administration.
The core fact of the scandal is that a man who helped Moon’s presidential campaign -- presumably using illegal means -- demanded government positions for him and his acquaintances as a reward for their contributions to Moon’s election victory.
Rep. Kim, a member of Moon’s inner circle and a candidate for a gubernatorial race in the June 13 local elections, has already admitted that he relayed the demands of the man, whose online nickname is “Druking,” to relevant Cheong Wa Dae officials.
It was fortunate that Cheong Wa Dae did not accept the demands, but that does not allay concerns about the possibility that there could be more such cases. The case should remind Cheong Wa Dae of the public criticism that political and ideological allegiance and contributions to Moon’s campaign were the only criteria for tapping senior officials.
All in all, Cheong Wa Dae’s management of personnel affairs should be overhauled in a way to strengthen vetting process and widen the pool of candidates beyond those who are close to the government.