Prime Minister-designate Kim Hwang-sik is said to be a confirmation hearing-type candidate for the post. His predecessor Kim Tae-ho, a 40-something whom President Lee Myung-bak believed could represent the younger generation, dropped out of the running due to lack of integrity in parliamentary confirmation hearings. So the top standard needed by the next prime minister is integrity. Kim Hwang-sik has served as a judge and passed confirmation hearings and the affirmation vote at the National Assembly twice when appointed chairman of the Board of Audit and Inspection in July 2008 after the Lee administration was launched. The administration might have thought that the main opposition party would not oppose him since he could become the country`s first prime minister hailing from South Jeolla Province (Jangseong County).
Though the position should not remain vacant for a long time, the screening of the prime minister-nominee`s integrity and capability should not be done lightly. Kim Hwang-sik seems to have few issues such as increasing wealth or suspicion over his integrity, but was exempted from military duty because of a vision problem. Given that President Lee and the ruling party chairman also did not serve in the military, a thorough screening must determine if anything illegal occurred in Kim Hwang-sik`s exemption.
The presidential office stressed that the former judge is the right person for realizing a "fair society," a core value announced by the administration in the second half of its term. A fair society, however, is not made by just appointing a former chairman of the internal government watchdog without screening integrity.
Commitment and the ability to put fairness into practice are also important.
The prime minister has the heavy responsibility of managing all administrative agencies while aiding the president with overall national affairs, from a potentially drastic change in the Korean Peninsula to generating continuous growth engines and reducing the gap between the haves and have-nots. Whether Kim Hwang-sik can deal with administrative work is uncertain because he was in the legal sector as a judge for a long time until he took over the internal government watchdog. The prime minister also has limits in his or her role given that the structure of the Korean government grants strong power to the President. Yet many issues such as the four-river restoration project and policies for the people require excellent communication ability. Hopefully, this confirmation hearing can effectively screen Kim Hwang-sik`s administrative capability.
The prime minister position has remained vacant for 49 days since Chung Un-chan`s official resignation (July 29). Even if Kim Hwang-sik passes his parliamentary confirmation hearing, he can be officially confirmed early next month because of schedule. If he can pass a stricter vetting process in integrity and administrative capability and stabilize the government and push for public affairs, Korea will be fortunate to have him.