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Firing Is Part of Personnel Affairs

Posted August. 07, 2010 11:50,   


Faced with intense public anger over the opening of the domestic rice market to imports following the Uruguay Round negotiations in December 1993, then President Kim Young-sam overcame the crisis by having Prime Minister Hwang In-sung resign. In early 1997, he faced another crisis in the wake of a major corporate bankruptcy and an influence-peddling scandal involving his second son. The president then fired Prime Minister Lee Soo-sung in March that year. In a surprise move the same month, Army Chief of Staff Kim Chin-young and Defense Security Command Chief Seo Wan-soo were also let go though they were key members of the military elite. The dismissals heralded the ebbing political influence of the military, which had controlled the country for about three decades, and the liquidation of the elite within the armed forces. President Kim’s style of sending messages to the public through personnel appointments and dismissals gave a fresh surprise to the Korean people.

A heated dispute has erupted over the surprise resignation of National Police Agency Commissioner Kang Hee-rak with seven months left in his term. Though he said he is stepping down to help President Lee Myung-bak reshuffle his administration and open the way for younger officers, accepting this explanation at face value is difficult.

Speculation has it that Kang was forced to resign amid a series of police scandals. Others in the ruling camp say his resignation is part of the administration’s efforts to reach a balance in the regional backgrounds of the heads of the country`s four major power agencies.

Prime Minister Chung Un-chan offered to step down three times, including after the ruling Grand National Party’s defeat in the June 2 local elections. After President Lee remained ambiguous over Chung’s resignation, he finally made an official announcement on it following the ruling party’s victory in the July 28 by-elections. President Lee accepted Chung`s resignation, expressing regret that Chung offered to step down despite repeated requests to stay on the job.

Letting go of officials is an important part of personnel affairs. If an appointment fails to send an objective message about its meaning, it cannot be called a success. Replacing key officials without a clear explanation of the meaning will have less impact and persuasiveness on the public. Clarifying the meaning of personnel appointments is the essence of public communication in a democratic society.

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