Go to contents

[Op-Ed] Public Service and the Rich

Posted August. 17, 2009 07:28,   


In the United States, those who want to become high-ranking government officials must interview with the personnel manager of the White House. If they pass, they must then fill out and submit a 60-page personal data statement. They must list the names and phone numbers of high school classmates as references, all previous addresses, and the destinations and purposes of overseas trip over the past 15 years. Based on this data, the FBI and IRS will visit small towns or meet applicants’ former spouses from two to eight weeks to scrutinize the applicants’ backgrounds. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said July 13 that the vetting process for administration jobs is a “nightmare.”

In Seoul, the presidential office is requiring a self-introductory statement that includes some 100 questionnaires to candidates for Cabinet positions. The process is said to include questions such as, “Have you ever been wined and dined worth more than 100,000 won (80.9 U.S. dollars)?”; “Have you ever received a donation in the disguise of a private debt?”; and “Have you ever had an inappropriate relationship?” The decision to ask trick questions to candidates apparently stems from the failed confirmation of Chun Sung-gwan as prosecutor-general over ethical issues.

The presidential office says the statement allows candidates to check themselves on matters such as asset formation, taxes, military service, plagiarism, contributions to the national pension fund, medical insurance, and intentionally changing their home address to allow their children to study at a better school before they undergo confirmation hearings. Even if the presidential office finds the right person, he or she often drops out of the running because of the rigorous screening process, saying, “I’m not interested in serving the government. Please take me off the list.” Some complain that few can meet such strict standards and that the process will result in a tiny pool of talented candidates.

Does it benefit the people that higher standards make the selection of Cabinet officials more difficult? If a very moral person is selected, he or she might not be able to carry out complicated public affairs for the most part. The incumbent administration has been blasted as a government for the rich by the main opposition party. When making key government appointments, the administration has disqualified most people worth more than two billion to three billion won (1.6 million to 2.4 million dollars). Morality matters in the public sector, but if the rich is excluded from key positions, the adverse impact on the people could prove tremendous.

Editorial Writer Park Seong-won(swpark@donga.com)