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Hole in Government’s Operation

Posted July. 23, 2002 22:15,   


On July 23, 2002, President Kim Tae Jung acknowledged government’s responsibility for the failure to inform the public of the Sino-Korean agreement not to renew the safeguard against importation of Chinese garlic. Nonetheless, the Blue House officials denied that President was briefed on this matter, stirring confusion among the public.

A number of politicians and government officials point out that, considering the reporting structure within the government, it was unacceptable to say that President was not informed about the agreement on termination of the safeguard, which was the hot potato between Korea and China. They also suggested that, if he did not know about it at all, he seems to have a serious problem in controlling the government.

Kim said at the cabinet meeting on 23rd, “The Garlic Scandal was caused by the insincere attitude of the government. People would not have accused us of cheating and concealment if termination of the safeguard, which was written into the appendix of the agreement, had been announced.”

He added, “This whole matter poses a chance for us to think about how serious the consequences may be if the public thinks their right to know is abridged. It is same even if the failure to announce the safeguard’s termination was not intentional and only government agencies know about it.”

President Kim did not directly confirm whether or not he was reported in detail about the termination of the safeguard. But, his aid Park Sun-sook, in charge of public releases, said, “As far as I know, President Kim was briefed on the outlines of the agreement.”

Lee Ki-ho, then Chief Economic Aid to president also confirmed, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not inform us of the agreement regarding termination of the safeguard. And, therefore, we did not report to President.”

But one government official disputed, “Saying the Blue House did not know about the talks means the governing systems failed to function properly. It is totally absurd to argue that the Blue House did not know about termination of the safeguard, the agenda at the core of the talks.”

Especially the Grand National Party (GNP) raised questions saying, “Is it for a tactic of calming down the public anger to argue that President Kim was ignorant?”

The GNP’s spokesman Nam Kyung-pil expressed, “We cannot take at the face value the assertion that President was not informed of a matter that could determine the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of farmers. If the government keeps failing to reveal the whole truth, the necessity for a congressional investigation is to be considered.”

Yeon-Wook Jung Chol-Hi Lee jyw11@donga.com klimt@donga.com