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Integrity of Foreign Minister-designate

Posted October. 08, 2010 11:33,   


The ethical lapses of Foreign Minister-designate Kim Sung-hwan were made public at his parliamentary confirmation hearing Thursday. The integrity of Cabinet nominees is again under fire just 39 days after designates for prime minister and two Cabinet posts simultaneously withdrew their candidacies over ethics violations, a first since the introduction of the confirmation hearing system 10 years ago. After President Lee Myung-bak declared his intent to create a fair society, the people naturally believed that the government would raise the moral standards applied to nominees for high-ranking posts. This expectation has been dashed, however. Questions over morality have hounded Foreign Minister-designate Kim just as they did Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik.

Kim Sung-hwan is alleged to have dodged the draft, evaded taxes, and illegally amassed wealth. In a military physical in 1975, he was assigned to active duty. He underwent a second checkup in 1977 after joining the Foreign Ministry, however, and was assigned to the Army’s reserve corps due to a congenital disorder of his jaw joint, a rare condition that affects one in 100,000. On the allegation that he signed an illegal contract when buying a house in 2004, Kim said it was common practice at the time to make a “down contract,” in which the housing price on paper is far lower than the real price as a means to evade taxes. The ban on such a contract was mentioned from the early 2000s to suppress real estate speculation before the practice was officially prohibited by law in 2006. So Kim Sung-hwan cannot escape criticism.

Ironically, leaders of the ruling camp ranging from President Lee and Prime Minister Kim to ruling Grand National Party leader Ahn Sang-soo never served in the military due to exemptions. Among key officials who gathered at the presidential office’s underground bunker after the sinking of the naval vessel Cheonan, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young was the only one who served in the military. If Kim Sung-hwan is confirmed as foreign minister, the number of Cabinet members who never served in the military will rise. This is hardly surprising in light of how the incumbent government has mismanaged personnel affairs. President Lee will face harsh criticism over how Cabinet members who never served their country can be responsible for maintaining national security.

The Grand National Party was stuck as the opposition party for 10 years. This was partly because the sons of Lee Hoi-chang, who was the party`s candidate in the 1997 and 2002 presidential elections, allegedly dodged the draft. Under the incumbent administration, however, draft dodgers have assumed prominent positions. In this situation, it is only natural for the people to say those who served their country cannot succeed in Korea. Ordinary people are upset to see those who were physically unfit to serve in the military succeed. Given this development, President’s Lee’s promise to bring about a fair society hardly sounds convincing. Whether the ruling party can retain its parliamentary majority remains to be seen.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)