With controversies simmering over the appointment of Kim Ki-sik as governor of the Financial Supervisory Service, Cheong Wa Dae shows characteristic intransigence again, as is often the case with its personnel decisions.
Opposition parties have raised pressure on Kim to resign voluntarily and on Cheong Wa Dae to withdraw its appointment, saying he is ethically unqualified for the job. Local news media is seeking answers from him regarding the questionable purposes of his overseas trips sponsored by financial institutions and an economic policy research institute when he was a lawmaker.
Cheong Wa Dae countered the pressure, arguing that his trips were for official business and that there were few problems serious enough to dismiss him.
Kim apologized but emphasized they were strictly business trips and that he did not benefit the sponsors of his trips in return, rejecting suspicions that they were bribes. But his explanation fails to square with facts. He said that he had taken a staff member of his office along on his overseas trip funded by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy in 2015. But actually an intern fresh from college, not a staff worker, accompanied him. He said he had kept strictly to his official business schedules. But he went sightseeing.
As a lawmaker Kim scolded angrily the heads of public institutions under the supervision of a parliamentary committee he sat on for taking business trips at the expense of related private companies. One cannot but be struck dumb with astonishment at his double standards. The hunchback does not see his own hump.
For a lawmaker’s business trip to be a legitimate legislative activity, it must be taken on a parliamentary budget. It is hardly understandable, either, or him to take an intern along as his aide on an overseas trip.
It is nonsensical that the presidential office mentioned a “failed lobby effort” when it placed its trust in him. Cheong Wa Dae must take lobbying, whether it fails or not, seriously, though it admitted later that it was not an appropriate expression. Is a failed lobby effort not a lobby?
In fact, the trip was not a failure in this regard. The research institute saw its 2017 budget for the opening of an office in Europe approved apparently thanks to his opinion favoring the office setup in a budget deliberation session held after his trip.
His travel funded by the institute is not the only trip he made with conflicts of interest. He went on a trip to Uzbekistan at the expense of Korea Exchange in 2014 and to China and India sponsored by Woori Bank in May 2015. These institutions are under the Financial Supervisory Service he heads.
Probably more concerning than Kim is the attitudes of Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, which tend to reflectively reject reasonable doubts raised by opposition parties and news media rather than to listen to them humbly and take stock of them.
In defense of Kim’s trips, the ruling party said that before September 2016 when a stiff anti-bribery law for public and elected officials was enforced, it had been customary for legislators to take overseas trips paid for by agencies under their supervision in the name of spurious justifications. This might not be incorrect, but that does not necessarily mean that there is nothing wrong with his trips in connection with the appointment of him as FSS governor.
Even if he took trips before the law took effect and so he could not be held accountable by the law, he should have taken into account the National Assembly code of ethics which ban its members from accepting bribes directly or indirectly from interested parties.
Even if junkets were customary at the time of his trips, qualifications required to oversee the financial markets go beyond the bygone ethical standards.
Cheong Wa Dae needs to consider why all four opposition parties oppose or question the appointment of Kim despite his apology for what he says “inappropriate trips by the public standards.” It must also reflect on its obstinacy and arrogance toward criticisms of its controversial nominations.