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[Editorial] Problematic choices

Yoon’s picks for inaugural Cabinet face serious allegations, spark doubt

Shortly after his election victory, President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol said he believes that he was elected by the people to restore “fairness and common sense” in society.

But many of his picks for the inaugural Cabinet are now entangled in a slew of embarrassing allegations, raising questions about whether the nominees in question will carry out their duties with a sense of fairness and common sense.

At the heart of the dispute is Chung Ho-young, the health and welfare minister nominee. Chung is now under a barrage of attacks for allegedly using his position at a hospital to get his children admitted to an affiliated medical school.

The facts that have been disclosed mostly show Chung in a bad light. Chung’s daughter entered Kyungpook National University’s medical school in 2017 while he was serving as vice chief of the affiliated Kyungpook National University Hospital.

In applying for the medical school’s transfer admission, Chung’s daughter listed volunteer activities that she carried out at the very hospital where her father held a high-ranking position.

Coincidentally or not, Chung’s son was also admitted to the same medical school under its transfer admission program the following year. At the time, Chung was promoted to the head of the university hospital. By strange coincidence, his son had a chance to do his volunteer activities there. These volunteer activities were later used in his application form.

The way Chung’s children made their way into the university hospital is not the only problem. Fresh questions have popped up regarding the military service medical checkup for Chung’s son. There have also been alleged problems with academic papers on which he was listed as a co-author, which were used to boost his chances of entering the school.

“I have never wrongfully used my position for my children,” Chung said at a press conference Sunday. But his statement was not well received. Even some high-ranking lawmakers in the People Power Party suggested Chung withdraw his troubled nomination.

In South Korea, the public is extremely sensitive to so-called “appa (daddy) chance” cases, in which powerful and wealthy parents pull strings to secure favorable outcomes for their children in getting admitted to colleges and getting hired.

The mushrooming suspicion over Chung’s children and his qualification is a particularly painful parallel case for President-elect Yoon, who himself spearheaded a controversial probe into Cho Kuk, a former justice minister of the Moon Jae-in administration in 2019. Suspicions that began with Cho’s daughter being wrongly listed as first author on a medical academic paper led to more serious suspicions being raised. As a result of the probe, the Supreme Court convicted Cho’s wife in January of forging some documents, such as a false internship certificate used in her daughter’s application for the Pusan National University medical school.

Understandably, Cho called for Yoon to apply the same strict standards in selecting nominees and scrutinizing their family members.

For all the uproar, however, Yoon did not take prompt action. Instead, he asked citizens to wait for the parliamentary confirmation hearing to see whether the nominees have indeed committed any wrongdoing.

Yoon’s indecision could be costly. Other nominees are also engulfed in similarly serious allegations. For instance, Kim In-chul, the nominee for deputy prime minister and education minister, is accused of improperly holding an additional position while he was president of the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

Strangely, Kim gave himself permission to work as a nonexecutive director of Lotte Chemical, then Lotte Advanced Materials, and earned more than 100 million won ($81,000) during his term.

Kim is also under fire for allegedly having mistreated and collected inappropriate information on students’ parents.

If these scandal-laden nominees are allowed to go through the parliamentary confirmation hearing, the public will be deeply disappointed. More importantly, Yoon’s mantra of restoring fairness and common sense in Korea will ring hollow and hypocritical.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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