Fairness and objectivity
Doubts on diplomatic academy linger
The Korea National Diplomatic Academy (KNDA) opened Tuesday amid expectations that the country’s diplomatic circles, which have often been the subject of public accusations for incompetence and corruption, will be revamped.
The academy is aimed at training and fostering a new generation of young diplomats who will tackle diplomatic challenges wisely and effectively in accordance with Korea’s rising role in the international community. With its establishment, the decade-old Diplomatic Service Examination will be abolished in 2014.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade will pick its first batch of students in early 2013 through a three-stage screening process involving foreign language tests, aptitude tests, essay writing, tests for majors such as economics and international politics and intensive interviews. The academy will accept and train 60 nominees who will enroll in a one-year, three-semester program in September 2013 and the foreign ministry will recruit 40 of them as fifth-level foreign ministry officials.
Unlike the current recruitment system that has long been criticized for producing unqualified diplomats, the new recruitment system will make it possible for qualified diplomatic talent with varied experiences to become diplomats, according to the ministry.
Nonetheless, there is lingering concern that the creation of the academy may pave the way for the job of diplomats to become hereditary ― actually none but offspring of diplomats would gain access.
Critics cite possible problems in screening students. More than anything else, intensive interviews in the three-stage screening process that will continue for days in groups and individually and involve problem-solving abilities could spark criticism about objectivity.
The most serious problem comes when the foreign ministry selects 40 out of 60 academy students, which will be a life-or-death contest because 20 dropouts won’t have another chance of becoming diplomats. After entering the academy, the students are supposed to intensively receive education concerning the diplomatic job. Whether to be recruited as diplomats will be determined by evaluating academic achievements, attendance, attitude in class and the extent of achieving diplomatic capabilities. In this, the family background could play a decisive role.
We vividly remember the high-profile hiring scandal involving a daughter of then Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Yu Myung-hwan in September 2010. At the time, Yu had to step down after it was revealed that his daughter, who had three years of work experience with the foreign ministry, re-entered the ministry thanks to preferential treatment.
Given this scandal, the final selection process could become a playground for some students who have diplomats as their parents or relatives. We can easily imagine that connections and family ties will be crucial in becoming diplomats.
In this vein, securing fairness and objectivity will be the key to determining the success or failure of the diplomatic academy. The foreign ministry should do its all-out to produce a new generation of highly competent diplomats by making the academy free from nepotism and corruption.