[INSIGHT]To end political corruption hereAfter a tortuous process, the debates over political corruption investigations seem to have been settled. The allegations over last year’s presidential election campaign funds will be looked into by the prosecution, and the allegations of corruption against the former aides of the president will be handled by an independent counsel. But there remains one problem yet to be solved, that of the president’s call for a vote of confidence in his leadership. It seems that the Blue House is also agonizing over the issue. It is in a dilemma because the Constitutional Court has in effect already ruled that the idea is unconstitutional. It can neither insist on a vote, nor can it go back on what the president promised officially. President Roh Moo-hyun declared that he would follow the advice of the political community. It is also awkward, though, that the president’s promise to the people should be decided by political parties. In the end, there is no way for the president to take responsibility for the allegations of corruption against his former aides.
But this issue should be solved before the year ends. Leaving it in limbo would only hinder the president and could stir political instability. The only solution is for the president to declare that a popular vote of confidence is unconstitutional and that he retracts his announcement.
First, it would be desirable for government legal organs such as the Ministry of Justice to officially tell the president that such a vote could be unconstitutional. The president could then retract his proposal based on this report. It was wrong of the Blue House to have dragged this problem this far. What kind of a government takes two months to figure out whether its policy is unconstitutional?
Instead of a popular vote, there are other things the president should do, things that will allow him to regain public trust.
First, the president must exercise prudence. The allegations against his close friends and aides that make him “unable to face the people” have not been resolved. Rather, they are growing bigger. First the allegations were only focused on the former Blue House secretary Choi Do-sul but now they have come to include other acquaintances of the president such as Kang Geum-won, Seon Bong-sul and Lee Gwang-jae. This should obviously make the president sorrier to the public and more careful with his words and deeds. It is also his duty to admit frankly whether he had any part in or knowledge of these affairs. For example, did he have any knowledge that Mr. Choi received 1.1 billion won ($960,000) and what privileges did he bestow on Mr. Kang, who claims that he is a very close friend of the president? It is wrong for the president to keep silent, waiting for the results of the independent counsel’s inquiry. Until now, the president’s behavior on the matter has been far from prudent. It was unwise of him to veto the independent counsel bill and to make snide remarks about cats and dogs when the situation became serious, the opposition party started a boycott of the National Assembly and the party leader began a hunger strike. The president, in recent trips to the provinces, had also made remarks that could be taken as appeals to regional sentiment; the president told the people of Gwangju that the city “felt more home than home” to him and to people of the Chungcheong provinces that “from now on, this will be the age of the Chungcheong provinces.”
Second, the president must take measures to prevent any further corruption on the part of his aides. He must make sure that there are no people around him whose hands are not clean. It is hard for people of the same “code” to supervise and restrain one another. The president should also restrain some activities by the members of Nosamo, his personal fan club, who often face allegations of illegal acts. Some acquaintances of the president in the provinces are also facing allegations of misconduct. The president must examine the way he manages his relationships with acquaintances. The fact that the president and the first lady played golf with Mr. Kang and his wife made the textile factory owner even more full of himself and more ready to trade on the president’s authority.
Third, the president must implement without delay the reforms he promised when he proposed the vote of confidence. If the president sincerely feels sorry to the people and wants to make up for past mistakes, all he needs to do is concentrate on better governance and provide better government services to the people. This is the sense of purpose he should keep as he reshuffles the cabinet and the Blue House staff. Should the reshuffle be used as a campaign strategy for next year’s general elections or to beef up the small de facto government party, Our Open Party, the people will not be impressed. In addition, the thought that minor changes in personnel reflect better on the government than a thorough housecleaning is not true. It is the resolve for reform and the will power of the president that matter. Should President Roh, acting with a heavy sense of responsibility, regain public confidence, it would be a blessing for both him and for the country.
If not, if he should fall into the temptation of using this situation as a political ploy, he would go down in history as a president who could not keep the promise that he would take responsiblity for his men.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?