[OUTLOOK]Justice and swollen liversPresident Roh Moo-hyun, now in his sixth month in office, has laid the foundation for what could be a great achievement. He has taken the initial steps for the independence and political neutrality of the prosecution. Now it is up to the prosecution to stand on its own, and the change could be President Roh’s major achievement.
President Roh has promised the political neutrality of the prosecution ― and so had all the presidents before him. They repeated this promise throughout their terms as if chanting a mantra. In the past, it was all empty promises and false assurances. The prosecution was forced to play “handmaiden to power,” and some prosecutors volunteered to play courtesans to power. It is not surprising that many think President Roh will follow in the footsteps of his predecessors on the path to inaction.
The skeptics, however, seem to be wrong so far. Mr. Roh is indeed fostering conditions for the prosecution to stand on its own. It is not important whether the president is doing this out of his own convictions or not.
In fact, ironically, this progress was triggered by his fiery temper. Mr. Roh had more or less cornered himself in a televised and much-talked-about confrontation with young line prosecutors who were protesting the new government’s appointments of senior prosecutors.
At the meeting, the president lost his temper when one of the prosecutors asked him about his attempts to interfere in the prosecution’s investigations. The president’s words, threatening an all-out war with the prosecution, must have rankled in the hearts of the young prosecutors with their sense of self-importance and desire for the independence of the prosecution. And this was all on live television. It was a decisive event that made it impossible for the president to interfere in any prosecution investigation in the future. That was the reason that the prosecution has conducted its recent investigation into the Goodmorning City Corp. bribery case, involving several politicians, much more aggressively than any investigations before. And now the government party is complaining that the prosecution is one-sided.
The ball is now in the prosecution’s court. It must carry out the law fairly and be a champion of justice. Corruption and injustice in our society must be reduced significantly. Should strict justice be carried out in cases where politicians are charged with corruption, we would see almost half the political reforms we want achieved automatically.
Should the prosecution carry out its investigation thoroughly and bring in their indictments for violations of election laws without distinguishing which party the candidate belongs to, our election culture would be much different. Our politics became further corrupted as the result of prosecutors’ leniency toward government party members while targeting opposition politicians for investigations. They encouraged political corruption by protecting the president and major government figures, disguising their bribes as political funds.
The prosecution must apply the same standard to all. Double standards will corrupt the prosecution and ruin the country. The courts must change as well and find their proper role quickly. They should no longer show leniency toward politicians facing corruption charges and delay their decisions on those indicted for violating election laws so as to give politicians a chance to finish their terms. The courts must reflect on the fact that the democracy in the United States today was made possible by court decisions according to the law and the zeitgeist at every important turn of history.
These are the ways to achieve true reform without spending any money. The results of these changes would provide the grounds for developing this country by several steps.
Never mind the irresponsible utterance by Yoo In-tae, the presidential senior secretary for political affairs. Mr. Yoo remarked that the prosecution had a “swollen liver,” a colloquial expression used for a person showing impudent courage. Make your livers swell larger, prosecutors! That is the wish of all ordinary people in present-day Korea. Should the prosecution and the courts fail to read and obey the spirit of the times and the shifting of the basis of our social system, we cannot expect our country to develop.
The results flowing from liberal or laissez-faire words of the president and his core aides not only give hope for the independence of the prosecution and the courts, but lay the foundation for further democratic development of our country.
If such a turn of fortune were to occur every time Mr. Roh’s tongue slips, we would welcome more of them ― as long as they don’t involve diplomacy, security and economic affairs.
* The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Sioux Lee