President Yoon Suk Yeol reinstated the position of chief of staff for policy in a restructuring of his secretariat that came earlier than expected, in an apparent bid to address declining confidence in the administration's abilities following a devastating failure in Busan's bid to host the World Expo 2030.
Yoon also replaced the senior presidential secretaries for political affairs, civil and social agenda, public relations, economic affairs and social policy. They will begin work on Dec. 4.
Outgoing senior presidential secretary for public relations Kim Eun-hye said, Thursday, Yoon promoted Lee Kwan-sup, who served as the senior presidential secretary for policy planning, as the first policy chief of the Yoon administration, which is a minister-level position.
The new chief of staff for policy will oversee the offices of the senior secretary for economic affairs and the senior secretary for social policy. Also, a new position of senior secretary for science and technology will be created under the policy chief, and the office will announce an appointee in the coming weeks.
"The creation of the chief of staff for policy position is aimed at improving coordination between the Cabinet and the ruling party, enabling the faster implementation of policies and checking economic policies more thoroughly so that we can take better care of the people's livelihoods," Kim said.
The presidential secretaries who will report to the senior secretary for policy planning are the secretaries for national planning, national agenda, policy coordination, government information and speech and communication.
Until the announcement, Yoon had kept two minister-level aides – the presidential chief of staff and the director of national security – while his predecessor, Moon Jae-in, had three – the presidential chief of staff, the director of national security and chief of staff for policy.
When taking office, Yoon abolished the chief of staff for policy post under the view that the presidential office should be a slim and agile organization. However, concerns have grown that policies have been virtually missing during Yoon's 18-month presidency, especially in terms of the three major reform agendas of labor, pension and education.
Since those agendas require coordination between multiple ministries, the chief of staff for policy is expected to synchronize policies among ministries. This appears to reflect past criticism over the government flip-flopping the lengthening of the legal cap on the workweek and expanding the country's medical school quota earlier this year
The post is a minister-level position, which is higher than a vice-minister-level senior presidential secretary, meaning the policy chief's words and directions will have greater influence on ministries. An official at the presidential office said the position was created "to serve as the control tower of government policies."
Hours after promoting Lee, presidential Chief of Staff Kim Dae-ki announced that Yoon replaced five senior secretaries.
The current secretary for state affairs monitoring, Han O-sup, was named senior secretary for political affairs, and former news anchor for broadcaster KBS, Hwang Sang-moo, was appointed as senior secretary for civil and social agenda.
Presidential spokesperson Lee Do-woon will be the new senior secretary for public relations, and Bank of Korea Monetary Policy Board member Park Chun-sup will be the new senior secretary for economic affairs. Vice education minister Jang Sang-yoon was appointed as the new senior secretary for social policy.
The staff changes came earlier than initial expectations that Yoon will replace his aides when secretaries exit the office early next month to run in the general elections in April next year.
This is viewed as reflecting Yoon's efforts to refresh his secretariat and dispel growing criticism of the government's diplomatic capabilities following the failed bid to have Busan host the World Expo 2030.
During the General Assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions in Paris, early Wednesday, Busan won 29 out of 165 votes by member states, lagging far behind Saudi Arabia's Riyadh which won 119 ballots. Since Riyadh gained more than two-thirds of the total ballots, no second-round voting took place.
This was far from the government's initial prediction based on meetings with diplomatic contacts that the Korean city was staging a neck-and-neck race with Riyadh, and it was almost certain that Busan would pass the elimination round and stage a final showdown in the second-round of voting.
The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) called the botched attempt "a diplomatic failure" and called for a thorough scrutiny into why the government relied on inaccurate information.
"The failure revealed the government's lack of access to information and diplomatic limitations," DPK spokesperson Rep. Yoon Young-deok said Thursday. "The government should use this as an opportunity to review its own capability."
DPK Rep. Kim Young-ho said the government must thoroughly check the reasons behind its inaccurate predictions. "Without self-reflection and improvement, we may fail to demonstrate our true capabilities in future efforts to attract international events," Kim said.
Against this backdrop, Yoon on Thursday called off his scheduled attendance in two meetings on state policy and national cohesion. A day earlier, he also postponed a national defense innovation meeting slated for Wednesday afternoon. A senior official at the presidential office said Yoon was being briefed on related state affairs.