Suspicions and controversies cloud some of the minister nominees announced in the March 8 Cabinet reshuffle.
Unification Minister-nominee Kim Yeon-chul once called sanctions against North Korea “self-harm.”
He wrote in a newspaper column in 2010 that the incident in which a North Korean soldier shot dead a South Korean tourist near North Korea’s Kumgangsan in 2008 was a “rite of passage” the South had to undergo in the early days of inter-Korean contacts.
Kim said on multiple occasions that the South Korean naval corvette Cheonan may not have been sunk by a torpedo North Korea fired, and that Seoul’s sanctions against Pyongyang taken in response to the torpedo attack must be lifted irrespective of whether the North apologizes.
His common sense is questionable. His view of inter-Korean issues is biased, risky and concerning. Even some in the ruling camp regard him as too positive toward the North for a minister. His nomination raises suspicions that the Moon administration may be intent upon going its way for inter-Korean cooperation despite US opposition.
His blunt remarks are concerning, too.
In 2015, he derided Moon, then leader of an opposition party, for visiting a Marine Corps unit in a military uniform to mark the fifth anniversary of the Cheonan’s sinking. He posted on Facebook that Moon was “putting on a show” wearing a military uniform.
In 2016, he poured out raw criticisms at former leaders of the Democratic Party of Korea. He called Choo Mi-ae an “infected zombie” and Kim Chong-in a “piece of gum chewed and spat out by former President Park Geun-hye.”
Politics aside, his rude words invite questions about his personality.
Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister-nominee Choi Jeong-ho gave his apartment in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, last month to his daughter and his son-in-law. However, Choi and his wife have since resided in the apartment, paying monthly rent to his daughter and her husband.
It is questionable if he gave his house to his daughter and her husband to avoid being criticized for owning multiple houses. The ministry discourages ownership of multiple housing units, blaming it for instigating real estate speculation. He will have to explain the unusual approach of donating property to his daughter and whether there were gift tax evasions.
Choi also won out against tough competition from other potential buyers for a spot in a popular apartment complex to be built in Sejong City. His wife is the landlady of an apartment in Jamsil, Seoul. She has never lived there. These circumstances raise suspicions of unfair competition and apartment speculation.
It is not illegal to own multiple houses, but it is problematic for a land minister-nominee to possess two or more units.
Besides, Rep. Park Young-sun, SMEs and Startups Minister-nominee, is embroiled in controversy over her son’s dual nationality and her husband’s payment of back taxes, with Science Minister-nominee Cho Dong-ho facing questions over whether his son received undue favors in an internship.
It is questionable if the nominees can do their jobs to people’s expectations.
Looking at the controversies, one cannot but wonder why Moon nominated them and if the vetting system within the presidential office is working properly.
It is vetting 101 to look into the past words and deeds of minister candidates. A simple search of their social media posts would have revealed problematic remarks.
Was the office of the presidential secretary for civil affairs negligent in its duties, or couldn’t it say “no” because the president recommended the candidates so aggressively? Either way, there are problems.
It seems more likely that the office vetted the candidates and reported their deficiencies to the president, who nominated them regardless. If the parliament could vote down nominations, Moon might have picked different figures.
“Those who are grilled harshly during hearings tend to do better jobs,” Moon once said in a post-hearing ceremony when handing out letters of appointment.
This time, he is likely to repeat the same words. He seems to think nothing of controversy.
So what is the point of confirmation hearings?
Of course, lawmakers must check nominees thoroughly, but the president must respect their opinions.