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Striking Regional Balance in Political Appointments

Posted March. 01, 2008 03:21,   


When an opposition party lawmaker asked Culture Minister-designate Yu In-chon which part of Wanju, North Jeolla Province he was born during Wednesday’s confirmation hearings, Yu replied, “I’m not sure.”

What an absurd and comical moment it was.

When the list of 15 minister nominees was announced, Cheong Wa Dae said three of them, including Yu, were from Honam, which includes the Jeolla provinces. However, Yu said, of his own accord, that he doesn’t even know where in Wanju he was born and that he considers himself a native of Seoul. The government’s announcement, which was made in an attempt to avoid the criticism that not enough ministers were nominated from Honam, only resulted in further upsetting the people of that region.

The appointment of presidential secretaries and cabinet ministers has been coined by new catch phrases. Some good examples are the “KSC Line” which refers to “Korea University - Somang Presbyterian Church – City Hall,” and the “RMPG Cabinet” which means “Rich Ministers with Properties in Gangnam.” Given that the justice minister, the top public prosecutor, chief of police, the senior presidential secretary for civil government, and the chief of the national intelligence agency are all from Yeongnam, which includes the Gyeongsang provinces, some call this the “Yeongnam Justice Fraternity Line.”

Previous administrations were also criticized for regionally unbalanced appointments of government officials. Some of them were labeled the “TK (Taegu, North Gyeongsang Province) Administration,” “PK (Busan, South Gyeongsang Province) Administration” and “Honam Administration.” However, even those administrations carried out personnel changes based on regional balance when they picked the prime minister or other ministers and heads of powerful government agencies. When former governors were elected presidents in the U.S., the terms “Georgia Association,” “Arkansas Association,” and “California Association” emerged, raising concerns that governors-turned presidents hired too many staff members and aides that worked in the governor’s office. Although this is quite true with presidential secretaries, a considerable number of cabinet ministers were selected to strike a regional balance.

Personnel appointment that tries to strike a regional balance is a political act that symbolically displays the government’s willingness to remove regionalism and to seek national unity. President Lee Myung-bak said, “I don’t appoint people based on blood, geography or academic ties. That’s not my style.” However, his personnel appointments have been far different from his words. Cheong Wa Dae makes the excuse that this is the result of a merit-based system. However, it may offend non-Yeongnam figures as it suggests that competent people only come from Yeongnam. The president should display political tact and begin to appoint top-ranking officials based on regional balance.

Editorial Writer Gwon Sun-taek, maypole@donga.com