중앙데일리

Minister to ‘reconsider’ nominees

Prosecution rages at snub to senior aides

Mar 08,2003
Kang Gum-sil, the justice minister, said yesterday that she would reconsider her plan to promote junior prosecutors over their seniors. “The prosecutors’ opinions will be considered as much as possible,” Ms. Kang said.
Her ministry’s decision to fill vacancies in senior prosecution jobs with relatively junior officials rocked the prosecution’s offices. A very strict seniority system still governs promotions at the agency, although the Confucian-based system has eased in other bureaucracies. Prosecutors have always treated the promotion over them of someone who passed the bar examination later than they did as an invitation to resign, an invitation that is always accepted, and they reacted bitterly and vocally to the minister’s plans to promote junior officials to senior jobs.
Under the weight of the onslaught, and despite support for her from the Blue House, Ms. Kang blinked yesterday evening, saying she would “discuss thoroughly” with Kim Kak-young, the prosecutor-general, the promotions to be announced Monday. But she added, “I will complete reforms on the personnel administration system to strengthen transparency and fairness.”
Prosecutors called the planned appointments, intended to reform the scandal-ridden office which critics said often put politics before even-handed administration of the law, a further subordination of the nominally independent agency to the Blue House. They complained that the ministry ignored “procedures and customs” in planning the promotions.
Ms. Kang started treading on toes at the prosecution quickly by informing the prosecutor-general of her plans rather than conferring with him on the promotions. An overwrought prosecutor at the Seoul district office compared the ministry’s action to the “invasion of occupation forces.”
Prosecutors also said the ministry did not provide reasonable grounds for promoting four junior prosecutors over their seniors. “Promotions without good reason would only subjugate prosecutors to the administration,” one said.
The justice ministry appeared to rub salt in the prosecutors’ wounds when officials there let it be known that they would ask prosecutors who were passed over for promotion whether they intended to stay or resign, rather than let them take the hint without prompting. “That is tantamount to demanding them to resign,” a prosecutor said. As many as twenty heads of district offices could leave, some prosecutors said.
Some prosecutors also said that civic groups, the Blue House and the National Assembly were also involved in planning the promotions, saying that Ms. Kang, whom they said was not well-informed about the organization’s internal politics, could not have devised the plan on her own.
Other prosecutors demanded that Mr. Kim resign as head prosecutor, saying he did not stand up for his office when told of the promotion plans. Mr. Kim said he had no plans to do so.
That, one official at prosecution headquarters said, was probably the best course so that the Blue House would not have the opportunity to name a chief prosecutor who would support the administration’s position.
Before Ms. Kang said she would reconsider her plans, President Roh had warned prosecutors that he would deal firmly with those who opposed the action.
Mr. Roh said he had told the minister that he wanted bosses in place who would pursue prosecutors who meddled in politics in earlier administrations.
At a meeting of senior Blue House secretaries, he said that respecting tradition would not restore public trust in the office. “Only when the old ways of doing things are changed will the prosecutors become independent,” he said.
Song Kyoung-hee, the Blue House spokeswoman, quoted senior Blue House staff members as saying that prosecutors’ hostility to the ministry’s promotion plan went beyond reasonable bounds, and Moon Jae-in, the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, said the president intended to break the rigid tradition and promote trustworthy persons.
The draft announcement of appointments at prosecution offices, some sources said, would have dropped the names of two persons who had been nominated by the agency to head district offices.
The Grand National Party complained that the Roh administration was trying to tame the prosecution, even though the party had been a vociferous critic of the prosecution in the later years of the Kim Dae-jung administration. “The independence of prosecutors will remain unfulfilled if a politically appointed justice minister carries out unilateral personnel changes,” said Kim Young-iel, the party’s secretary general.


by Park Jai-hyun


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