The government on Tuesday withdrew a plan to resume whaling for scientific purposes which drew international and domestic criticism when it was announced on July 5.
The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries had apparently pushed ahead with the plans without seeking the consensus of other government ministries, while Cheong Wa Dae and the Prime Minister's Office had failed to do their job of mediating between different ministries.
The controversy triggered by the plan was addressed at a meeting of senior presidential secretaries on Monday chaired by President Lee Myung-bak.
"The fisheries ministry was criticized at the meeting for unilaterally announcing the resumption of whaling without discussing the matter with other ministries or the Prime Minister's Office," said one official who took part in the meeting. "The senior presidential secretary for economic affairs was chastised by the president for causing a needless kerfuffle."
The fisheries ministry defended itself by saying it wanted to resume whaling to protect squid and other fish farms from being destroyed by whales, whose numbers have risen to almost 70,000. The ministry said it wanted to research the "diet" of whales so that authorities could come up with measures to protect fish farms.
"The ministry erred by focusing only on steps to protect fish farmers," a Cheong Wa Dae official said. "But Cheong Wa Dae officials, who should have been overseeing national affairs, failed to do their jobs."
The latest blunder is another sign that the government is well into its lame-duck phase, coming hard on the heels of a botched plan to sign a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.
Faced with intensifying international criticism, the fisheries ministry took a step back on July 7, saying it would abide by the decision of the International Whaling Commission. But it did not officially scrap its plans either.
In the Monday meeting the government initially decided to continue talks with the IWC because it thought this is not a matter that should be scrapped under international pressure. The Chosun Ilbo reported the story the next day, fueling further international and domestic criticism and prompting the government to withdraw the plan on Tuesday afternoon.