Sweeping Reform Is Needed

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Sweeping Reform Is Needed

Reform of the Public Prosecutor''s Office has become one of the biggest tasks facing the administration. The need to give the prosecuting authorities independence and to ensure that they remain politically neutral is far from a new issue, but public prosecutors have recently lost so much credibility that the problem is no longer tolerable. The sad truth is that in the eyes of the people, the prosecutor''s office, which is supposed to be the main agency watching over public officials, lost its last shreds of prestige and dignity long ago. Between the opposition party''s motion to impeach top-level prosecutors and a push to revise the Public Prosecutor''s Office Act, ruling camp and the office itself can no longer ignore the public''s demands for a complete overhaul.

Undeniably, the blame for bringing the situation to this impasse falls squarely on the individual prosecutors themselves. As high-ranking officials who are supposed to be completely impartial, they need to look long and hard at whether they used the power of their office to their own advantage or to favor certain select groups. They should also feel ashamed of themselves for having acted as political running dogs just because they were from the same region or were related or went to the same school as people under investigation.

Even if only some prosecutors are guilty of such transgressions, the entire organization is tainted. Everyone is responsible for keeping everyone else straight. It is unpersuasive when a biased prosecutor calls for political neutrality or independence for the prosecutor''s office.

Reforming the office must begin right there, internally, with severe self-examination and self-purification. Truly valuable rights cannot simply be grabbed. They have to be earned, and the prosecutors will have to make some sacrifices in order to earn their independence. Some internal reviews have already begun. Last year''s corruption scandal involving lawyers and judges in Taejon sparked what appeared to be a movement for change. But it fizzled out. Why?

Previously, the prosecutor''s office was run as if it were a personal power base. Until that sort of abuse is eliminated, the office will never gain its independence. We must break out of the mindset that equates political power with the power to investigate and prosecute. The president and other officials with executive and legislative powers should be the leaders in this change. But Assemblyman Yoon Chul-sang''s pronouncements about the prosecution''s handling of election irregularities and the speech given in the National Assembly by the Millennium Democratic Party leader Suh Young-hoon, revealing information about broad-ranging audits and inspections, show that we are not yet free of the link between the prosecutors and political forces. The crisis in the prosecutor''s office can easily spill over into politics. It is frustrating to see that the political power elites do not realize that a powerless prosecutor''s office is ultimately to their detriment.

In order to the ensure the neutrality of the prosecutors, the system itself needs to be revamped. Some features should be eliminated, such as the principle that inspectors are an integral part of the prosecution and governing articles that allow upper-level prosecutors too much absolute power over their subordinates. A committee or advisory panel should be established to ensure that all personnel matters are handled transparently and with complete fairness. One possible way to ensure that the office is placed on a proper footing would be to establish a body to oversee reform, comprising current prosecutors, lawyers, former judges and members of citizens'' groups.

by Lee Young-sun

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