Compared to some other voters across the world, the Korean voters may well be lucky in that we only routinely discover our Cabinet minister-nominees have some "baggage" when they arrive for review at the parliamentary hearing for confirmation.
Readers by now know that KAIST Professor Cho Dong-ho who was a nominee for science and technology minister and Choi Jeong-ho, the candidate who was tapped as land and transportation minister nominee, have both quit their candidacies. To be more clear, Cheong Wa Dae withdrew Cho's nomination and Choi voluntarily removed himself as nominee. Both had performed poorly at the hearings, apologizing for perceived ethical lapses.
Cho was first criticized for problems with his real-estate investments and his two sons' supposedly lavish lifestyles during their time studying abroad. It was however his problematic attendance at the 2017 World Biomarkers Congress, an international conference known to be organized by OMICS International held in Spain that raised the biggest concerns. The conference, regarded as a "non-performing" one, was never reported to the presidential office.
Choi had been marked by the fact that he owned multiple houses ― one of which his daughter inherited from him while he lived there paying monthly rent ― in an administration that has strongly pledged to clamp down on property speculation.
The presidential office said that otherwise both Cho and Choi passed through the internal screening process for nomination. The ouster of the two nominees was unavoidable because they fell short in people's eyes.
The exit of the two candidates may well have been inevitable, following the resignation of Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom. Kim quit after his family purchased a mini-sized building in the redevelopment-designated neighborhood in Heukseok-dong, Seoul.
As individuals, they may feel that the higher level of scrutiny is unfair. The line between speculation and investment is often thin, and the issue of real estate is currently a popular topic of discussion in Korea.
At restaurants and coffee shops, the talk is about property. People are constantly exchanging information about neighborhoods, apartments and officetels. Surely, the housing issue is a perennial challenge for individuals and society at large. Yet, there is a palpable sense of fear of being left behind ― to own housing either for residential purposes or to let as a source of income for post-retirement. In Korea's highly-competitive society, the rush to act, whether it be to beat climbing real estate prices, or tightening regulations, is pressing. In that vein, it would be challenging not to join the rush, an existential challenge of sorts for many, and more so for those holding posts that require a sense of service, mission and integrity.
President Moon Jae-in's administration with its traction in democracy and human rights movements, is respected for its higher standards of ethics. Scrutiny of the administration born following the candlelight revolution is likely to be stronger, but the administration has a right to stick by its reasons for nominations.
The administration however must make more effort to engage and persuade in unfurling its decisions and policies, rather than to stridently declare them. Change comes fast in this society, and stridency in policymaking should include engagement and flexibility to dance with the fast-occurring changes.
Because of the political nature of the parliamentary hearings, administrations often explain that it's hard to find candidates willing to undergo the public grilling, reducing the talent pool. Surely the voters deserve better.