[OUTLOOK]The perils of closely held power

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[OUTLOOK]The perils of closely held power

When power is privatized and runs rampant, the fate of the weak is at the mercy of the strong. That is why democratic societies strictly forbid the privatization of power and define it as a public asset, leading to the formation of nations based on this concept. Guarding against the misuse of power is also why the powers within democracies are separated and their respective duties distributed and placed within limits.

Our constitution separates the powers of government and provides for systems to control the abuse of power to ensure the well being of the public and the safety of the community. The privatization of power happens under dictatorships or communist rule where the power falls easily in the hands of the ruler.

In a parliamentary cabinet system, the cabinet can be dismissed through a vote of no confidence. However, in a presidential system, there is no way to dismiss the administration immediately. That is why in a presidential system, like ours, agencies of internal inspections and control, such as the National Intelligence Service, the police, the prosecutors and the office of the presidential secretary for civil affairs, must carry out their duties.

The allegations of corruption concerning the president's sons and these agencies resulted from the privatization of public power. If the National Intelligence Service, the National Police Agency and the Blue House secretary of civil affairs become a private and hierarchical fraternity, they lose power to stop any potential abuses of power by the president or any other part of government.

The corruption and bribery allegations currently under investigation are not mere petty crimes but serious offenses that have shaken the very foundations of this country and altered the government structure. That is why the public is unable to contain its indignation. The prosecutors who were supposed to investigate the allegations were private tools of the authorities, incapable of discharging their proper duties. Prosecutor general after prosecutor general stepped down amid public criticism.

The new Supreme Public Prosecutors Office under Prosecutor General Lee Myung-jae has launched the largest ever investigations into corruption. Mr. Lee was appointed prosecutor general with the blessings of the people who put their hopes in him to free the country from corruption. Not only is this a matter of personal honor for him, it is a matter of the future of our country.

Mr. Lee has two major responsibilities. One is to investigate with fairness the enormous tangle of corruption that the country is now seeing and to deal strictly but justly with those found guilty. The other is to dismiss "political prosecutors" and replace them with real prosecutors, the "people's prosecutors."

Mr. Lee has shown a grim determination since his appointment, meeting no one and showing discretion in what he says. Unlike former prosecutors general, Mr. Lee does not intervene in the actual investigations. This is what a prosecutor should be. Instead of flattering words and trying to look good to those in power for personal ambition, a true prosecutor should be silent in his efforts to fight evil with justice. A prosecutor's dignity rises from his silence. Korea's prosecutors should have realized this earlier.

However, talk about investigations being wrapped up before the World Cup and about how there will be certain lines that will not be crossed raises concern on whether the truth behind the allegations will be reduced or buried.

A strange twist within this context is that the ruling party's presidential candidate, Roh Moo-hyun, openly criticized the prosecutors office last week. Mr. Roh called for the prosecutors to include members of the opposition party in the investigations. This is regretful. Even for a politically motivated campaign move made with the local elections in mind, Mr. Roh's criticism made no sense.

Should the candidate ask for "reform and principles?" What he should have asked for was the prosecutors to probe deeper into the "sanctities" of the ruling administration, the president included. The criticism runs counter to the sense of justice that the public is calling for. In fact, Mr. Roh's words raise questions as to what were his true intentions.

The public will not forgive any attempt to tamper with the investigation when the whole country is in a crisis. Conscientious intellectuals, citizens and civic groups must now rise to protect the prosecutors office from political attacks.


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The writer is a professor of law at Seoul National University.

by Chong Jong-sup

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