[INSIGHT]Changes must include key posts

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[INSIGHT]Changes must include key posts

There has been a string of "gates" happening lately. The rotten stench of corruption fills the air, and the center of political power is no exception. With more than a year left in his term, the president has already become a lame duck, even though major tasks are ahead next year.

On the political agenda are local elections in the first half of the year, legislative by-elections in August, and the presidential election at the end of the year. Then there is the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup before a worldwide audience. The domestic and international economies are still shaky. There is no time for procrastination. Just when efficient administration and control on the government's part is needed more than ever, the government is shaken by one corruption scandal after another.

With the president's popularity going down and the end of his term approaching, a dispersion of leadership is inevitable. Nevertheless, this dispersion should not be allowed to the extent of paralyzing the government. Our situation seems like a replica of the circumstances that led to the so-called "IMF crisis" in 1997. To prevent the situation from getting out of hand, President Kim must clear his mind of all personal political ambitions and act boldly.

He should first limit his political ambitions to ending his term smoothly, maybe even successfully. Should rumors of his thoughts on yet another scramble for power or on particular candidates leak out, there would be no stopping political turmoil from getting worse. Because the opposition has a legislative near-majority, indulging in internal strife or confronting the oppostion will drive the ruling party into a corner. The president has resigned as party head and affirmed his intention to concentrate on state administration, but no one sees this as a move to distance himself from his party. The president must convince the opposition and the general public of his neutrality and the genuineness of his decision to forgo all ambition if he wants their support and cooperation. Only then can he effectively exercise leadership over his administration and the bureaucracy.

The president's political intentions will be seen through his upcoming his personnel decisions. He is considering a major change of cabinet members early next year, including the prime minister. For this long-announced and long-awaited "personnel reform" to be successful, it is important that the president eliminate all regional favoritism and political partiality.

The quality, not quantity, of new cabinet members is important. It goes without saying that those who were in the cabinet because of political deals with Mr. Kim's former coalition partner, the United Liberal Democrats, will have to go.

The more interesting issue is the replacements of the prosecutor general, the head of the National Intelligence Service, and the director of the Office of National Tax Administration. Should these posts be excluded from the reshuffle, government reform will not be considered complete no matter how large its scale. Reform will be evaluated not according to the number of replacements, but on whether an able person without any regional colors is appointed as prime minister and whether a person of integrity like senior prosecutor Shim Je-ryoon is appointed as prosecutor general.

It will be impossible for the present government to regain the people's trust or to restore order to public offices without settling all the corruption scandals that have been uncovered. Each and every one of them should be turned over to the prosecutors. The autonomous and neutral handling of the cases by the prosecutors is the key factor here. Without the guarantee of prosecutorial neutrality, it will be difficult to clear up this mess.

Moreover, it will be impossible to avoid public distrust and controversy even if the matters are properly dealt with. With things as they are now, the public will raise a cry of "political persecution" whenever a prosecutor tries to investigate the opposition party.

The prosecutors' office will not be able to convince the public of its neutrality and autonomy with its present leadership. This is why government personnel reform will not be considered complete without a changeover in the prosecutors' office. It is highly desirable that the prosecutors should regain their credibility and clear up the various corruption scandals during the remainder of President Kim's term.

It is highly desirable for them personally as well, if for no other reason than to avoid the political retribution that is sure to rise if the scandals are still unresolved when the next administration steps in. Political leaders should have the wisdom not to leave a vacuum in leadership for the one remaining year to come.


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The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Seong Byong-wook

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