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Reversing Predecessors` Policies

Posted August. 10, 2010 11:31,   


“Liberals and conservatives cannot afford to stride separately to revive the city of Anyang.” This is what Anyang Mayor Choi Dae-ho, a member of the main opposition Democratic Party, said in his inauguration speech July 1. After emphasizing harmony, he demoted all senior city officials responsible for punishing members of the Korea Government Employees Union under the previous mayor. This action violated personnel rules set by the Public Administration and Security Ministry. Former union chairman Sohn Young-tae, who was fired last year by these officials in charge of disciplinary action, was named to the transitional committee for Mayor Choi.

“In education, there cannot be a divide between liberals and conservatives. Priority should be given to policies that satisfy education stakeholders.” These are the words of Kim Seung-hwa, educational superintendent of North Jeolla Province. He then announced Monday that he was revoking the designation of self-governing private high school for Namseong High School in Iksan and Jungang High School in Gunsan, designations which had been made by his predecessor. Winning election as the unified candidate of progressive civic groups, Kim says self-governing high schools are a “symbol of privileged education that harms the ideology of equity.” In his inauguration address, he said, “I will create a warm educational environment in which all children are healthy and happy.” Does he think school is a playground or public sauna rather than a place for learning?

The practice of overturning the policies of predecessors is something Anyang and North Jeolla have something in common. Choi and Kim are both left-leaning figures. Ostensibly, they say they are indifferent over ideology and go beyond it. Are they saying this to avoid the left-leaning label or to be seen as pro-democracy activists? The same holds true with the way they overturn policies set by their predecessors immediately after taking power. They resist corrective orders from the central government, which calls their behavior a violation of laws and regulations. The former head of a private cram school, Choi said, “The judiciary must make a judgment call before the government determines whether the Public Administration and Security Ministry’s order for corrective measures was in compliance with the law.” A constitutional law professor-turned education chief, Kim is also poised to seek review by the judiciary.

Under strict enforcement of the law, the governor of Gyeonggi Province can invoke his or her right to reverse Choi’s decision should Anyang fail to correct its illegal personnel reshuffle. The Education, Science and Technology Ministry can also override North Jeolla’s decision to revoke the schools’ designation in line with Clause 1 of Article 169 of the Autonomous Government Act. The question is if the central government has a strong enough will and administrative capacity to take such action. If it acquiesces to their acts only after making verbal warnings like, “We will take stern action,” left-leaning administrative and educational chiefs will continue their crusade of “protests.” The ball is in the central government’s court. How Education Minister-designate Lee Joo-ho, previously known as a “powerful vice minister,” will handle the situation will be interesting.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)