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[Newsmaker] Home affairs minister faces tough mission

July 17, 2014 - 21:08 By Yoon Min-sik
Chong Jong-sup, the home affairs minister who took office Thursday, confronts the daunting challenge of revamping the public sector.

The former constitutional scholar, entrusted with the task of regaining the public’s trust via governmental reforms, vowed to put his efforts into ensuring that accidents like April’s deadly sinking of the Sewol will not happen again.

The ferry sank off the country’s southwestern island of Jindo on April 16 and left over 300 dead or missing, most of them high school students.

“To prevent tragic accidents like the Sewol from ever happening again, (the government) needs to come up with fundamental measures to control disasters and make sure those measures are implemented,” the new Minister of Security and Public Administration said in his inaugural speech.

“I will fundamentally root out the problems stemming from conflicts of interest (of government officials) that distort the state’s functions, while pursuing all possible means to make sure that the ethics of civil servants are led by the rule of the law.”
Chong Jong-sup. (Yonhap)

The Sewol’s sinking and the subsequent investigation revealed botched rescue operations by authorities, deregulation that allowed the operation of an already-retired vessel, and more evidence of the network of corruption between bureaucrats and the private sector, referred to as “gwanpia.”

The public anger was apparent in Park’s falling approval rating, which dipped below 50 percent in May for the first time in more than a year.

Seeking to control the damage, Park dissolved the Coast Guard and replaced some of her Cabinet. In order to regain the people’s confidence, however, the government must convince them of its willingness to change itself.

Chong vowed to put his utmost effort into dealing with the “gwanpia” issue, which often comes in the form of retired high-ranking officials being hired by organizations that operate in fields related to the government body at which they had been working.

In keeping with his policy of eradicating corruption in the public sector, Chong expressed his hopes that the so-called Kim Young-ran Bill would be passed without its contents modified. The act bans public officials and their relatives from receiving money regardless of whether it is intended as a bribe.

The minister added he would work on expanding public participation in policymaking while increasing the roles of local government.

“We are currently facing a demand for the decentralization of power. The government should boldly transfer some of its authority to local governments while expanding its role as an auditor,” he said.

But the minister also has to persuade opposition lawmakers ― who bombarded Chong with accusations of misconduct at the confirmation hearing ― that he is the right man to carry out the reforms.

During last week’s hearing, he was accused of making speculative real estate investments and receiving preferential treatment while serving in the Army.

Although the opposition refused to approve Chong, Park pushed ahead with his appointment and confirmed him as the new minister Wednesday.

By Yoon Min-sik (