[INSIGHT]Authority requires responsibilityPresident Kim Dae-jung and former President Kim Young-sam were victims of absolute dictatorships. The two men could not brush off the seduction of being imperial-like authorities. I believe the two were not dissipated by power. Rather, it was our high expectations of them that caused our disappointment.
"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," goes the Lord's Prayer. Unless a person is a saint, he might be easily tempted in our presidential system. Not only does the president hold complete authority in his administration in terms of national finance, personnel and policymaking, but as the leader of a party he also influences legislation. Additionally, the president could dictate audits and inspections through his authority over the prosecutors office as well as the tax service. Therefore, the president controls all three major authorities. The president could become a monarch without arrogation. So, save for a saint, who would refuse such a position?
Koreans have the tendency to remove from power those who are unsatisfactory. Thus, the average time in office of a minister in this country is less than a year. Although there is a saying that personnel is everything, that can be true only when a society is simplified. This is an era when the focus should be more on the system and not on personnel. If a similar situation such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York occurred in Korea, how would we have responded? Most likely, we would have demanded the immediate resignation of the heads of the National Intelligence Service, the National Police Agency and the Defense Ministry. We would probably even request that the president be censured.
Although the president likely would not abdicate his post in such an event, the other officials would have to be sacrificed in order to soothe the public.
After those horrible events of Sept. 11, the U.S. public did not force the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to resign. If we want a democratic president and a credible prosecutors office, the country should try to focus on providing a system that would generate them. Simply changing the president and head of the prosecutors office would not solve the problem.
For example, during the 16th general election in 2000, a generation change took place as 40 percent of the legislators became newly elected for the first time. Including those elected in the 15th general election, 71 percent of them are new faces. Most of them were in their mid-30s. They used to be the righteous generation that demonstrated against the military government for democracy. But how much has the National Assembly changed? The new wave of the younger generation in the National Assembly vanished without a trace as it was absorbed into the Korean political structure. A concentrated power would only manipulate the system, and authority without restriction would be abusive. The only way to ensure democracy and exercise impartial authority is to disperse the authority, restrict it and make the process of exercising authority transparent to the public. Therefore, the president must be separated from party hegemony and released from direct control of the prosecutors office. The authority over the government administration should be indirect and limited only to the minister. There is no need for a secretary to the president for civil affairs since there is a prosecutor general and a minister of justice. It would be nice to elect someone who has power over everything, but it would mean that that person is burdened with taking full responsibility over everything.
The lame duck status quo occurred because the president suddenly lost strength after having exerted all power alone. It is necessary that the prosecutors office disperse its own authority by giving up the justice minister's right to interfere in investigations and the principle of identification, which would be used to help prosecutors who commit a criminal act to walk away without being charged, as well as by introducing an independent counsel. Furthermore, a restrictive apparatus such as a public hearing on personnel and a prosecutors office evaluation with the participation of citizens should be installed. By doing such tasks, the prosecutors office could elevate its transparency through citizen participation in the selection of personnel in the office. Such a method may seem like downsizing the prosecution's authority, but there is no stronger authority than the faith of the public.
Some may argue that it would not make much difference to change the legal system if noboby really follows it. In the past, this was so, but legal provisions have become stricter now and respected by the people. We can take pride that the power of the people has improved and that society has become mature.
The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yu Seung-sam