[EDITORIALS]Blocking Advisors Stunts PoliticsThe opposition Grand National Party is balking at the news that the government is conducting a preliminary investigation into a move by academics to participate in the opposition party's advisory committee. The government's actions could be interpreted as an attempt to block the infusion of high-powered brains into the opposition party since the people the government is taking issue with are resident scholars of state-run think tanks and professors at state universities.
Law enforcement authorities assert that the current round of investigations led by the Prime Minister's Office and the Board of Audit and Inspection is part of its routine investigation on the civil service. However, the investigation leaves ample room for misunderstanding since the opening of the investigation coincided with the disclosure of the names of people who are allegedly considering taking part in the opposition party's advisory committee.
Shin Kwang-ok, the Blue House secretary for civil affairs, said, "Cabinet ministers will naturally conduct investigations into their respective jurisdictions." He added, "If people working for state institutions have such intentions, they cannot be left alone." Mr. Shin's remarks can only be interpreted as confirming the suspicion that the investigation is aimed at people planning to participate in the opposition's advisory committee. It also gives a strong impression that the government is attempting to scare away people trying either to help the opposition party or to establish links with it.
The law governing civil servants forbids their political activities. However, the law on political parties allows a limited form of political activities such as joining a political party by professors at state universities. Based on this legal principle, resident scholars of state-run think tanks have every right to participate in political activities, such as advising political parties.
Advice from academics and experts is a crucial part of productive policy making by political parties and their leaders. Concrete policy outputs from politicians with the help of quality think tanks and a policy debate based on such deliberations are what Korean politics should strive for. It is unavoidable that both ruling and opposition parties compete for quality human resources. In this regard, the government and the ruling party's attempt to block the flow of intellectuals into the opposition party is wrong-headed.
The 50 people recently named to the Presidential Committee on Policy Planning include many scholars from state think-tanks and state universities, such as Han Sang-jin, a Seoul National University professor. President Kim Dae-jung also receives advice from his private think tank, the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation, which includes scholars from state institutions. This is why the opposition party is asking whether the scholars can only advise the ruling party.
Of late, some civil servants are reportedly attempting to establish links with the opposition party. The government may feel that it needs to prevent civil servants from establishing links with the opposition party, passing crucial information to the other side. However, preventing legitimate advisory roles of professors or forcing them not to respond to the opposition's request for advice is a narrow-minded act. If the current round of investigations is indeed aimed at scaring people away from the opposition, it not only hampers the development of Korean politics, it also goes against the basic political principle.