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[Op-Ed] Cheong Wa Dae Officials

Posted March. 30, 2009 09:27,   


In Korean officialdom, the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae symbolizes power and honor. The mere fact that one is working there makes him or her the envy of others. Certain public servants who have worked at Cheong Wa Dae often brag of what they did there. The office’s minister-level chief of staff and vice minister-level senior secretaries have secretaries and administrative officers under them. Cheong Wa Dae administrative officers have far more influence than officials of the same level at ministries. Those who work for Cheong Wa Dae usually get promoted when they return to their ministries after service.

Personnel appointments at the presidential secretariat provide a peek into the characteristics of an administration. Oh Won-cheol, who served as a senior presidential secretary under President Park Chung-hee, wrote in his memoir that Chung selected talented people and let them work for a long time. The Roh Moo-gyun administration selected officials for the presidential office based on their ideological inclinations. When incumbent President Lee Myung-bak announced his senior secretary lineup last year, he said he chose them because he thought they were the “best of the best.”

Staff at the presidential secretariat is subject to stricter ethical standards. In the first year of an administration, Cheong Wa Dae officials try to avoid contact with external figures to the extreme. As Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission Chairman Yang Kun said, however, Cheong Wa Dae’s ethical standards loosen up from the second year. In 2002, the last year of the Kim Dae-jung administration, presidential aides were arrested or forced to resign for allegedly committing irregularities.

Last week, two presidential administrative officers were arrested at a massage parlor on suspicion of paying for sex. One of them was an official dispatched to Cheong Wa Dae from the Korea Communications Commission. The two went to the massage parlor after being wined and dined by officials from a broadcast network. Cheong Wa Dae has issued a warning against drinking to its officials. Several days ago, Choo Boo-kil, a former public relations secretary for President Lee, was arrested on charges of receiving 100 million (74,128 U.S. dollars )to 200 million won (148,257 U.S. dollars) from Taekwang Industry CEO Park Yeon-cha. President Lee has urged his staff to be ethically and morally immaculate. Inappropriate behavior by presidential officials has undermined the president’s view of personnel appointments.

Editorial Writer Park Yeong-kyun (parkyk@donga.com)