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[Opinion] Club Cheong Wa Dae

Posted May. 04, 2006 08:29,   


“I feel chipper tonight. I survived the White House shakeup,” said President George W. Bush in his characteristic light-hearted banquet with White House correspondents a few days ago. The remark was about the recent shakeup of the White House key personnel, where his spokesperson and Chief of Staff were replaced. The present journalists burst into laughter.

Incidentally, Korea’s President Roh Moo-hyun also reorganized presidential secretary’s office yesterday. What response would he draw, if he had cracked a joke similar to what U.S. President said?

All of the newly appointed staff have close personal connections with President Roh. Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs Jeon Hae-cheol, a lawyer, once worked with the head of the state at the law firm Haemaru. Cheong Wa Dae Personnel Secretary Park Nam-chun served as the head of the general affairs division at the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries when Roh was minister of the department. Presidential Secretary of Civic and Social affairs Lee Jeong-ho is brother in law to lawmaker Lee Gwang-jae, a close aide to the president. Senior Presidential Secretary for Reform and Management Cha Ui-hwan went to the same high school in Busan with Roh. Indeed they all belong to a circle of his friends.

So far, Chung Wa Dae has been under fire for being the source of chaotic governance compounded by its connection-oriented personnel management, overly ideological inclination, amateurism, and corruption scandals involving presidential aides. This year alone, the nation has witnessed lax discipline leading to a series of incidents such as leakage of classified state documents, the murder of wife, and drinking and driving by Cheong Wa Dae staff members.

Against this background, Roh named as key officials his friends whose credentials are untested. No wonder critics say that the Presidential Secretary’s Office is not a center of national governance but a mere social club. No matter how harshly the public accuses his personnel management, it seems to fall on deaf ears.

Keeping close aides near him may reassure the president that he won’t become a lame-duck leader. However, the more he keeps them close, the more he is isolated in self-absorption. This entails drastic decline in the confidence of ministries and agencies on Chung Wa Dae, as was proven by former administrations.

I wonder why Roh and his administration are driving themselves further toward such situation.

Song Young-eon, Editorial Writer, youngeon@donga.com