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[Editorial] Accountability for SMPA appointment debacle

Posted December. 13, 2000 21:04,   


The debacle over Park Keum-Sung's appointment as chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency (SMPA) and his firing from the post two days later is not simply a matter of the personal morality of a man who had the audacity to falsify his educational records.

The current administration's wrongful personnel policies are a prima facie example of its erroneous conduct of state affairs. Park¡¯s appointment was a typical case of a spoils appointment, in which personal connections rather than professional qualifications are the deciding factor in a personnel decision. An inordinate degree of regionalism and favoritism was evident in the list of the administration's appointments to powerful positions even before this latest incident.

In Park¡¯s case, what many people are angry about is not so much that the ex-SMPA chief falsified his educational records, but that Park's promotion to the post took only two years and eight months, as against the seven or eight years usually required for such a rise through the ranks. They rightly feel that such a meteoric climb up the ladder could only have been possible through the influence of members of the power elite, who have regional and old-school ties with Park.

For that reason, it is only natural that some of the Millennium Democratic Party's senior legislative members, as well as those in the rank and file, raised the issue of accountability with respect to Park's appointment. They argue that the appointment debacle is a decisive incident in the public¡¯s ongoing loss of confidence in President Kim Dae-Jung's personnel policies. They insist that it is imperative to determine who made the promotion possible and to reflect the findings in the impending party and cabinet reshuffle. The names of those suspected of being involved are already being circulated both inside and outside the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP).

According to some reports, a senior legislative member of the MDP pointed out the inappropriateness of the appointment to the party¡¯s ruling elite even before it was publicly announced. His opinion was completely ignored. Some analysts also feel that the promotion was part of a strategy by some political factions within the MDP to have Park succeed Lee Moo-Young, current director of the National Police Agency. Lee's tenure was recently extended by a year, presumably to pave the way for Park's eventual succession.

According to some observers, the ultimate purpose of all this maneuvering was to exert absolute control over the highest echelons of the nation's police force by manning them with people from a particular region of the country. If this scenario is accurate, the Kim administration cannot avoid criticism that it attempted to misuse the police force for its own purposes rather than leaving it to its traditional role as the protector of law and order for ordinary citizens.

If there was no such political intent or manipulation, the administration must ensure the accountability of those responsible for making such an ill-advised personnel appointment. If no one is held responsible, the present administration cannot expect to easily restore the people¡¯s confidence in its governing ability.

To be sure, President Kim as the nation¡¯s chief executive must ultimately assume responsibility for the appointment debacle. Accordingly, he should take stern disciplinary action against those responsible for disgracing the country at a time when it is just beginning to show its commitment to reform and the transparent conduct of state affairs. Efforts at reform will never bear fruit unless the president repairs those structures that distort and block the free flow of public opinion to the apex of ruling power.