|National Election Commission (NEC) Chairperson Rho Tae-ak, center, gestures as he leaves a commissioners' meeting at the NEC headquarters in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, Friday. Yonhap|
By Nam Hyun-woo
The National Election Commission (NEC) is facing mounting criticism over its decision to refuse an investigation by the state auditor into suspicions that a slew of senior NEC officials exercised influence to help family members get jobs at the election watchdog.
With the number of people mired in the nepotism scandal expected to increase, the National Assembly reached a rare bipartisan agreement to launch a state probe, with the ruling party demanding NEC Chairperson Rho Tae-ak resign.
The NEC decided to refuse a proposed audit by the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) during a commissioners' meeting on Friday, citing a constitutional practice to exclude the election watchdog from BAI audits.
The Constitution states that the BAI audits and inspects administrative agencies and government officials. The NEC claims that it stands as an independent organization and is not categorized as an administrative agency, thus it is not subject to a BAI audit.
Shortly after the decision, the state auditor released a statement and refuted the election watchdog's decision, saying the NEC is subject to its audits as an administrative agency and the BAI has conducted audits on the NEC on issues related to human resources in the past.
"The BAI has been refraining from launching audits on the NEC, in order to respect the NEC's independence in managing elections," the statement reads.
Since last month, the NEC has been at the center of criticism following reports that NEC Secretary General Park Chan-jin and Deputy Secretary General Song Bong-sup allegedly unfairly helped their children to land jobs at the election watchdog. Park and Song resigned following the allegations, citing moral responsibility over the issue.
Following the suspicion, the NEC launched an internal audit on its workings and the possibility that former senior officials helped family members attain employment at the NEC. On May 31, it announced that there were 10 similar cases including that of the aforementioned two.
The number of people mired in the nepotism scandal is expected to grow, as the NEC is now auditing its entire workforce, including their spouses and relatives.
|From left, floor leader Yun Jae-ok and Ruling People Power Party Chairman Kim Gi-hyeon, speak during the party's supreme council meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul, Sunday. Yonhap|
Against this backdrop, the NEC's refusal to accept a BAI audit is triggering strong criticism from political parties.
"NEC Chairperson Rho apologized for the hereditary employment, but we could not sense the sincerity in the NEC's follow-up measures," ruling People Power Party (PPP) Chairman Kim Gi-hyeon said Sunday, referring to the election watchdog's refusal.
"Rho should stop humiliating himself and take accountability by stepping down from his post," Kim said. "And we strongly urge the NEC to welcome the BAI audit."
PPP floor leader Yun Jae-ok also suggested that public anger will not be soothed and the NEC will not be able to conduct proper self-scrutiny, as long as Rho keeps his job.
The National Assembly is now in discussions over the range of the state probe on the NEC after the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) agreed to the PPP's proposal for the investigation on May 31.
Though they agreed on launching the probe, the DPK is against the PPP's demand for NEC chairperson's resignation, because the main opposition party believes the ruling party seeks to tame the election watchdog ahead of the upcoming general election next year, and the launch of the parliamentary investigation may experience some delays.
DPK lawmakers of the Assembly's Public Administration and Security Committee said in a statement that they condemn "the PPP's political maneuvering aimed at controlling the NEC."
"If the PPP urges the resignation of the NEC chairperson, who is nothing to do with hiring, and seeks to appoint persons of the party's taste for the secretary general post, it is nothing more than an attempt to control the NEC before the next year's general election."