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[Opinion] An Eccentric Minister

Posted October. 01, 2003 23:06,   


“Through efforts to seek creative ways to escape everyday life, change and reform can be achieved, even if people call them eccentric.” This is a quote from the book “Why Can’t Public Servants Be Eccentric?” Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister, Choi Lark-jung, published the book when he was the Deputy Minister. These days, he seems to be putting in a lot of efforts on being “somewhat eccentric.” At the Cabinet Council meeting he said, “The cabinet council members should defend the president in danger.” His statement came only a day after he apologized for defending President Roh for attending a musical when Typhoon Maemi had struck the country. What kind of danger is President Roh in after enjoying the musical? Is he saying that other ministers are just standing on the sidelines? We do not understand what Minister Choi is trying to say.

At the Central Officials Training Institute, the Minister tried to defend President Roh but only ended up giving an example that only highlighted the President’s mistake. He said that former U.S. President, Bill Clinton, played golf with the state governor in Hawaii when the hurricane arrived. However, what Minister Choi said was wrong. In 1999, Clinton cancelled his plan to visit Hawaii after attending APEC Summit in New Zealand and had headed straight to Washington D.C. when the hurricane was near the southeastern coast. He declared federal emergency and had led the operation to evacuate 2.5 million residents.

Minister Choi said, “Why do we have to live in a country where a president cannot watch an opera when a typhoon comes?” If he said such words in the U.S. or in European countries, there would have been a harsher criticism. Former U.S. President Clinton was attacked in newspaper articles and editorials when he played golf right after making the decision to start air strikes against Yugoslavia at the National Security meeting in March 1999. It is not just the Korean media. What President Roh watched was a musical not an opera. Minister Choi seems to have his own philosophy as to who the “eccentric public servants” are. However, if his philosophy is fundamentally built on wrong facts, it can end up being an absurd philosophy of his own.

After attending the Cabinet Meeting, Minister Choi gave a lecture to some 300 students at Korea Maritime University in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province. Yonhap News reported that before the Minister began his lecture, he asked reporters to leave the room for the sake of the student’s education. He said he could not talk freely if reporters were there. Why can’t reporters stay at a high-level official’s lecture publicly given to college students? More and more people are concerned about which direction Minister Choi might be heading. Being eccentric is acceptable but even an eccentric person should know the right timing and direction.

Hwang Ho-taek, Editorial Writer,hthwang@donga.com