Political parties are clashing over the parliamentary confirmation system for high-level government officials with only a week to go until the launch of the Park Geun-hye administration.
The parliamentary confirmation hearing process rose as a major sticking point for the political parties after the president-elect raised the issue at a meeting with Saenuri Party lawmakers.
At the meeting on Jan. 30, Park criticized that the current system could discourage good candidates from taking public posts.
“(I) worry that qualified individuals will not take public office for the fear of the confirmation hearing as unverified allegations are brought against candidates, private matters are attacked and even the families (of candidates) are vetted,” Park was quoted as saying by an attendant of the meeting. Park also expressed general agreement with comments that nominees for public office were treated as criminals.
Parliamentary confirmation hearings were introduced in 2000, and their scope was gradually expanded to include nominees for 57 high-level posts.
Posts subjected to the measure include that of the prime minister, Cabinet members, heads of the National Tax Service, police and public prosecutors as well as Constitutional Court president and the National Intelligence Service chief.
Under the current Personnel Hearing Act and National Assembly Act, confirmation hearings for posts that require parliamentary approval including prime minister and Constitutional Court president are conducted by a temporary special committee established specifically for the process.
|A confirmation hearing for Constitutional Court presidential candidate Lee Dong-heub is held at the National Assembly on Jan. 22. Lee withdrew himself from nomination Thursday amid allegations of misdeeds. (Yonhap News)|
Ministerial candidates and others who do not require parliamentary approval are subjected to confirmation hearings carried out by the relevant National Assembly committees.
Park’s comments came a day after transition team chief Kim Yong-joon gave up as a prime ministerial nominee following a series of allegations ranging from tax evasion to irregularities in the process of his eldest son being exempted from military service.
In addition to Kim, former Constitutional Court presidential candidate Lee Dong-heub’s parliamentary confirmation hearing had also generated much criticism.
During the hearing, opposition party lawmakers were criticized for “treating the candidate like a criminal” by conservatives. For their part, the opposition parties hit back accusing the president-elect of “sealed-room personnel selection” and vetting candidates insufficiently before making nominations.
The “sealed-room personnel selection” refers to Park’s highly secretive selection process, and the opposition parties have argued that Lee was in reality chosen by the president-elect rather than President Lee Myung-bak.
Following Park’s comments, the ruling Saenuri Party quickly threw its weight behind Park.
On Jan. 31, the Saenuri Party announced that a task force for improving the confirmation hearing process will be established under floor leader Lee Han-koo, saying that the current system focuses too much on ethics and allegations of wrongdoings rather than a candidate’s abilities.
Some of the most senior members of the Saenuri Party have also directly backed Park’s views.
“As private issues become too pronounced under the current personnel vetting system, (candidates’) expertise and abilities can’t properly be dealt with,” Rep. Yoo Ki-june, a member of the Saenuri Party supreme council, said at a Feb. 4 conference.
While Saenuri Party leader Hwang Woo-yea lent his support, saying that “unnecessary attacks on candidates” should be removed from the confirmation process.
As a result, the ruling party came up with the idea for the so-called “two track” confirmation process, in which matters regarding ethicality and professional qualifications will be looked at separately.
Under the suggested system, ethicality-related issues will be dealt with first and information handled in this part will not be disclosed to the public. Candidates who are seen as having no major flaws will then progress to the second stage where the candidates’ suitability to the roles they are nominated for.
The second-stage hearing, and information regarding issues handled within it, will be disclosed to the public.
Unsurprisingly, Park’s comments have had the opposite effect on the main opposition DUP.
“Blaming the system without pointing out (the faults of) the candidate is topsy-turvy,” DUP floor leader Park Ki-choon said at the party’s high-level policy conference on Jan. 31.
He went on to criticize Park’s policy of keeping personnel selections tightly under wraps, saying that avoiding a “second personnel crisis” cannot be guaranteed if she holds onto such views.
DUP spokesman Park Yong-jin has also attacked the president-elect saying that her opinions on the matter were “very worrying” and that Kim Yong-joon’s decision to forsake the nomination was the result of her failure to properly verify his background.
Two-term lawmaker Shin Kyung-min of the DUP has gone a step further, proposing to lengthen and strengthen the Personnel Hearing Act.
While the two main political parties clash over the parliamentary confirmation system, the president-elect’s comments have incited widespread criticism for being contradictory to her past position on the issue.
The parliamentary hearing system was introduced in 2006 under the initiative of the Grand National Party, which has since become the Saenuri Party.
At the time, the conservatives were the opposition and argued for the inclusion of the nominees of police, public prosecutors’ office, National Tax Service and the National Intelligence Service chiefs into the confirmation system.
After the party took the majority in the National Assembly in 2000, the conservatives pushed its agenda leading to the legislation of the Personnel Hearing Act that included many of its demands in June that year.
In 2005, the parliamentary system was revised to expand its scope under the leadership of Park, who was the GNP chairwoman at the time.
“(The number of posts subjected to) the parliamentary confirmation system will be expanded, and a push for revising the Personnel Hearing Act will be made to increase the efficacy of the confirmation hearing,” Park said in her party leaders’ speech ahead of the plenary session of the National Assembly in 2005.
The conservatives’ demands were accepted by late former President Roh Moo-hyun and the number of positions that require nominees to undergo parliamentary hearings was increased to the current 57.
By Choi He-suk (email@example.com)