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[Editorial] Qualification problems

Appointment of minister nominees below expectation should be reconsidered

The opposition People Power party said that it views three minister nominees as less qualified. They are Science and ICT Minister nominee Lim Hye-sook, Oceans and Fisheries Minister nominee Park Jun-young and Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister nominee Noh Hyeong-wook.

Confirmation hearings were held Tuesday for five minister nominees who if confirmed will likely work until President Moon Jae-in’s term ends next March.

Lim brought her daughters with her on state-funded trips to academic conferences held in overseas cities, including Las Vegas and Barcelona, between 2016 and 2020 when she was a professor. She said all costs for her children during the trips were paid personally, but it is questionable if she is able to distinguish between private affairs and official duties. She and her husband defaulted on their general income taxes and paid them all shortly before and after her nomination. They underreported the purchase price of an apartment in 1998, a practice to dodge taxes which was not illegal at the time, but ethically reprehensible.

Park’s wife bought a heap of expensive European porcelain ware in Britain while Park was serving as a minister counselor at the South Korean Embassy in London from 2015-2018. Park brought them back to South Korea and labeled them as moving items that belonged to the diplomat, without declaring them to customs. Over 1,200 porcelain items estimated to be worth tens of thousands of dollars is too much for his wife’s hobby. She sold part of them at a cafe in Gyeonggi Province, which she opened last year.

Noh’s “property investment technique using an official residence” is nothing to sneeze at. He bought one of the apartment units in Sejong City provided to government officials favorably with an acquisition tax cut as part of an incentive to move to the city. However, he did not move into the apartment but leased it on a jeonse (deposit) basis. He used the deposit to repay a loan. While residing in an official residence, he sold the apartment for a profit of 220 million won. This is a typical case of speculation, taking advantage of jeonse without moving into a house. He may argue there was no legal problem, but if confirmed, blame is inevitable for being unscrupulous as the land minister.

It is questionable if the presidential office’s vetting system is functioning properly. The system is not working because a candidate’s loyalty takes precedence over morality. Moon’s seven vetting criteria were thrown into a wastebasket a long time ago. Moon even made a ridiculous remark that a nominee appointed after having more difficulty at the hearing would turn out to work better.

Nomination of former Vice Justice Minister Kim Oh-soo to the post of prosecutor general has too, fallen short of the public expectation. A confirmation hearing has yet to be held for Kim.

He served as vice justice minister under Moon’s three Justice Ministers: Park Sang-ki, Cho Kuk and Choo Mi-ae. He went along with their and the ruling party’s drive to incapacitate the prosecution under the pretext of reform. The ministry and the party have striven to weaken the prosecution’s power to investigate allegations involving figures loyal to the president. There are concerns whether he has the will to probe cases involving those in power and protect investigations from political pressure.

Furthermore, Kim was investigated by the prosecution in connection with the ministry’s illegal ban on overseas travel by former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui. He may turn into a suspect, depending on investigations.

Moon has so far appointed 29 ministers and minister-grade officials, though the National Assembly failed to adopt reports approving their nominations. Confirmation hearings have degenerated into a formality.

If ethically controversial ministers work in the Cabinet, it will be difficult to gain public trust with its decisions. Moon should reconsider his nomination. The same is true of the prosecutor general nominee. If he intends to play guard for those in power, he should retire voluntarily for the sake of the people.

Appointing nominees below expectations is a mockery of people and a way to spoil state affairs. A wise choice is demanded from Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling party.
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Korea Herald daum