One of the most important tasks for a diplomat is to settle disputes and resolve conflicts through negotiations. But what if he himself should cause a dispute or a conflict, as a former ambassador to an African country may have done?
The case in point involved the ambassador who recently returned home after his assignment in the Ivory Coast. Among the items he brought with him from the African country were 16 articles of elephant ivory, the trade of which is banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
The ambassador offered a lame excuse. He was quoted as saying that he had received the articles as a gift and that local employees appeared to have inappropriately put them in the package to be sent to Korea. If he had received them as a gift, whose value one estimate put at 100 million won ($92,000), as he claimed, why did he fail to report them to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and await instructions on how to handle them, as required by law?
His case came to the fore as memories were still vivid of the undue favors a former foreign minister gave to his daughter in recruitment, sex scandals involving another ambassador and consuls and other disagreeable cases. Each time, the ministry promised to take remedial measures. But it failed to make good on its promise, as evidenced by the latest case.
The Board of Audit and Inspection has been conducting inquiries at 19 Korean diplomatic and consular missions in China and Southeast Asian countries since April 25. For its part, the ministry is also working on proposals for precautionary action, including an annual evaluation of mission chiefs’ performances and the recall of underperforming ones.
All these efforts should bear fruit. Unqualified officials cannot be allowed to represent the nation in foreign countries.