Updated June. 28, 2014 07:01
Reporters who attended a joint government briefing on two Korean automakers` alleged overstatement of overstating the fuel economy of their sport utility vehicles could not believe their eyes and ears. At the briefing, which was intended to put an end to seven-month controversies over the carmakers` possible exaggeration of the fuel efficiency of their SUVs Hyundai Motor`s Santa Fe and Ssangyong Motor`s Korando Sports the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy presented different test results. Even after going through a state policy coordination meeting chaired by Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, the two ministries announced conflicting test results, with the transport ministry declaring the stated mileage claims by the companies "inappropriate" and the industry ministry approving them.
On the day of the briefing, the two ministries pointed fingers at each other. They blamed each other for attempting to use the media to its own advantage. Officials from the Ministry of Planning and Finances and the Office for Government Policy Coordination were busy apologizing to reporters for the conflict. Chung Dong-hee, a senior official at the Office for Government Policy Coordination in charge of industry and trade policies went as far as to confess that the government had so far managed the car mileage assessment "by rule of thumb."
Working-level officials at the transport and industry ministries are said to have recommended their superiors against announcing conflicting test results until a day before the joint briefing, even through the two ministries used different test standards. Rumors circulated among government officials that such a recommendation was ignored amid competition of self esteem between the two ministers whose names were not included in the list of a new Cabinet announced by President Park Geun-hye.
When the Park administration was launched, it continued to emphasize bringing down barriers among government ministries and the government`s role as a "control tower." Following the deadly ferry sinking disaster in April and two consecutive instances of botched nomination of prime minister, the administration has lost its ideal for reforms, with its policy coordination ability paralyzed. Confusions caused by the prolonged vacuum in key state posts take toll on the public. The latest conflict was an instance that showed how public officials can push aside the people`s interest by immersing themselves in ministerial turf war.