Korean president readies Cabinet shake-up

KOREA - President Park Geun-hye said Tuesday that she will conduct a small-scale Cabinet shake-up and partly reorganise the presidential office as she seeks to regain public confidence to push ahead with her economic reform drive.

"By carrying out a small-scale Cabinet reshuffle including the vacant post of Maritime Minister, I wish to take this as an opportunity to start afresh," Park said in a weekly Cabinet meeting.

"I will also partly reorganise Cheong Wa Dae to improve the work efficiency and help (staff's) mind take a new turn," she said. The president also said she will appoint a group of advisors "as soon as possible" to enhance communication between Cheong Wa Dae and the political parties to speed up her economic reform policies.

The president, however, didn't say when she would replace her staff and Cabinet members. Although it appears she may carry out the reshuffle within this month, according to some observers, citing mounting pressure for the revamp from the opposition parties, as well as the sharp drop in her approval rating.

According to a local pollster, her job rating plunged to 35 per cent last week, the lowest level since she entered office in early 2013.

Park had vowed to conduct a reshuffle last week during her New Year's news conference. But the president said she would keep three secretaries who have been pressured to resign over their alleged involvement in an influence-meddling scandal.

She said a decision on the fate of her Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon will be taken later after all pending issues are resolved. But it is widely expected that Park would replace Kim this time as it may be a burden to carry out her reform drive by retaining him.

Not only the main opposition party, but also some from the ruling Saenuri Party have been demanding Kim's removal, accusing him of pulling the strings over state affairs and personnel choices.

At the meeting, Park also lamented a recent child abuse case at a day care centre in Incheon, stressing that efforts to create safe and healthy child care environment went in vain.

Free child care was one of her major welfare campaigns, designed to help mothers with small children return to the workplace and also children with low-income families to have equal opportunities to receive proper care and early education.

The Park government, so far, has injected 9 trillion won every year to operate the universal child care system. The programme allows parents send their kids to local day care centres for free, and encourages local offices to build more child care facilities.

"Despite efforts to create a safe and reliable environment to raise children, it is deplorable that such cases are coming out," she said.

The president ordered the relevant ministries to tighten protection of children and eradicate child abuse cases by closely working together.

In a joint measure, the government and the ruling Saenuri Party decided to implement measures to root out child abuse at day care centres. Under the new measures, all children institutions, both private and public, will be required to install surveillance cameras and strengthen qualifications of their staff.

The government also plans to shut down any day care centre immediately if it is caught engaging in child abuse. Care providers who have been reported or punished for child abuse will be suspended for 10 years.

The recent child abuse case sent shockwaves across the country, after a video footage revealed a nanny harshly beating a 4-year-old for not finishing her food.