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[Editorial] Uncomfortable cohabitation

Unreasonable for Moon appointees to serve

More than two-thirds of the heads of government-funded institutions have over a year in office left until their terms expire, based on an analysis of public institution information disclosed by the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Of the 370 heads of government-funded institutions, 256, or 69 percent, have more than a year left in office, the Ministry data showed. This means almost seven out of ten heads of government-funded institutions who were appointed by the President Moon Jae-in administration are going to work directly with the Yoon Suk-yeol administration for more than a year.

Several were appointed in the closing days of Moon’s presidency, despite the then-main opposition People Power Party’s call for keeping their positions vacant for the next government to fill. Those appointments will get to stay in office for over half of the Yoon administration’s five-year term if they serve out their three-year terms.

The issue is that most of the appointments from the previous administration have policy philosophies that are in opposition to those of the Yoon government. Thus, there are concerns about possible friction with the current administration.

Hong Jang-pyo’s term as president of the Korea Development Institute will come to a close late in May 2024, the third year of Yoon’s presidency. He was Moon’s first senior presidential secretary on economic affairs and designed the failed income-led growth policy. This means that the architect of that policy, which created many negative side effects by going against market principles, will be leading the research institute on economic policies for the new administration, which is seeking to restore market mechanisms. The institute develops economic policies for the government, so its head and the new government should be able to work together in tandem.

Hong Hyun-ik, appointed as chancellor of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in August 2021, made controversial remarks such as: “Korea does not always have to conduct joint military exercises with the United States,” and “If the US withdraws about 10,000 troops from Korea, Korea should accept that, because US forces are excessively stationed here.” These views are notably different from the new government’s policy direction that emphasizes US-Korea cooperation.

Kim Je-nam, Moon’s former senior presidential secretary for civil society, was appointed as president of the Korea Foundation of Nuclear Safety late in February. Kim is regarded as a strong opponent of nuclear energy, and many think that it is inappropriate for him to complete his term as head of the institute under the new administration which has pledged to scrap the nuclear phase-out policy of the Moon administration.

Jeon Hyun-heui, chairperson of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission and former National Assembly member of the current major opposition Democratic Party of Korea, stirred up controversy over her alleged lack of impartiality. The commission, under her direction, judged that nothing was wrong with the suspicions surrounding former justice ministers appointed by Moon.

Controversy arises each time the government changes over whether those appointed by the previous administration as heads of government-funded institutions should remain in office. It was customary for them to resign voluntarily.

Policy discord is feared, but the Yoon administration has no effective means to make them step down unless they do something particularly wrong. Last year, the court ruled that it is illegal to pressure officials of government-funded institutions to resign.

Kim Eun-kyung, Moon’s first Minister of Environment, was sentenced to two years in prison for pressuring heads of public institutions who were appointed by the previous government of President Park Geun-hye, to offer resignations. The ruling raised the possibility for Moon appointees to try holding their grounds.

This is why there are mounting calls for a review of the current system for appointing heads of public institutions, particularly major ones, and their terms.

In the long term, requiring them to resign automatically if the government changes, is worth considering. However, changes to the system can take a long time. For now, it looks reasonable for them to offer resignations voluntarily.

It is not normal, by any measure, for those who played active roles in formulating policies for the previous administration to remain as heads of government-funded institutions after the inauguration of a new administration with a completely different policy philosophy.

By Korea Herald (
Korea Herald daum