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Unfit to serve

June 29,2017
Wednesday’s confirmation hearing at the National Assembly for Song Young-moo, nominated to head the Ministry of National Defense, clearly showed that the former Navy Chief of Staff is not qualified for the job at all. The hearing was actually a moment for three opposition parties — the Korea Liberty Party, the People’s Party and the Bareun Party — to confirm their judgment that he is unfit to play the role of defense minister.

One suspicion after another had emerged even before Wednesday’s screening by the legislature. Song faced allegations that he received overly hefty pay for his advice for the defense industry and a law firm after retirement, used fake address four times for various purposes, and even attempted to cover up military corruption while in service. Lawmakers wondered why he was able to get away with a severe drunk driving incident in 1991 without any investigation by the military police. When opponents criticized him for being guilty of the bad practices President Moon Jae-in himself had vowed to root out in his nominees for public office, he said he would tell the truth at his confirmation hearing.

But public doubts linger even after the hearing. As Chung Jin-suk, a lawmaker of the Liberty Korea Party, pointed out, it is very rare for top brass like him — a four-star general — to work for a defense contractor in return for money after retirement. The 30 million won ($26,212) monthly pay he received from law firm Yulchon in exchange for his advice also goes beyond common sense.

Song and other witnesses failed to address critical questions. We were amazed that Song and the law firm kept reiterating that they do not know who really determined the amount of his pay.

Song even had to confront a pointed attack from People’s Party floor leader Kim Dong-cheol that he is a politician rather than a retired general, given his past in which he applied for a nomination from the Democratic Party in parliamentary elections and served as an adviser for Moon’s presidential campaign. Song even had to undergo disgraceful comparisons with some unqualified defense ministers in the previous administration.

All of that raised the serious question of whether Song can push forward defense reform, a key part of the Moon Jae-in administration’s agenda. We are deeply doubtful that the people could accept the legitimacy of Moon’s reform drive if Song serves as defense minister. The president must realize the nation needs a fresh face with competence, conviction and morality strong enough to tackle tough challenges facing the military.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 29, Page 30