[NOTEBOOK]Roh and the prosecutors: A matter of trust

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[NOTEBOOK]Roh and the prosecutors: A matter of trust

There are different ways to deal with different people. People often talk about “carrots and sticks” as a means of persuading others. By alternately cajoling and threatening a person, you can get quicker results. But these are one-time affairs. Their effects don’t last very long and sometimes they can even cause more pain and trouble in the end.
There is a completely different way of dealing with people. It is called trust. You either trust or don’t trust a person. If you trust someone, you give him responsibility. It can also work the other way around. If you have placed responsibility in a person’s hands, you simply trust him. If you don’t trust a person, don’t ask him to do anything for you. Of course, trust might not get you immediate results. But it can, and will, gradually produce a satisfying conclusion.
Many Koreans have called the country’s prosecutors the “handmaids of power,” at least until recently. The prosecution as a government agency has always been eager to move according to the whims of power. But this has not always been the fault of the prosecution alone.
The determination of those in power to control the prosecution should not be underestimated. Control over the prosecution is, after all, directly linked to the survival of those in power. This is equally true for those who have gained power through force or through elections. In modern Korean history, controlling the prosecution was necessary for the government to survive; it needed the prosecution to attack opposition forces. The method it used to control the prosecution was “carrots and sticks.” As we can all see, the result was the corruption of both the prosecution and those in power.
The Roh Moo-hyun government could not have been an exception in feeling the temptation to control the prosecution, since no government is safe from this temptation. Moreover, the urge is stronger for governments with weaker political bases. But the Roh government did not attempt to control the prosecution. Rather, it could not control the prosecution and so it gave up.
While it is the government in power, the Roh administration is not a government with power. It has no carrots to offer and no sticks to threaten with. And it met vigorous resistance even before it could attempt to control the prosecution. As a result, the Roh government “opted” to trust the prosecution unconditionally; it had no alternative.
Because it had to leave the prosecution to itself, the government had to simply trust the two men leading the prosecution, Song Kwang-soo, the prosecutor-general, and Ahn Dae-hee, chief prosecutor at the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office’s Central Investigation Department.
President Roh has no personal ties with Mr. Song or Mr. Ahn except that he passed the bar exam in the same year as Mr. Ahn. While this could mean a great deal in Korean society, Mr. Roh and Mr. Ahn apparently did not become close during their judiciary training together. Thus, the president and the two prosecutors began their relations as just that ― the president and two prosecutors. Relations got off to a rocky start, but they have maintained their faith in one another. The prosecutors’ tacit understanding with the president is this: don’t try to keep us in line and we won’t try to get in line.
Mr. Roh is suffering from several political wounds right now. So many of his aides have been detained, and the president himself might face an investigation. If he is the only one to suffer from these investigations, then he was betrayed by those he trusted.
On the other hand, President Roh looks quite all right compared to the opposition. If he is licking his wounds, the Grand National Party is bruised black and blue, and is walking on crutches. The opposition party is trying to appeal to the public by claiming this is an unfair attack on the opposition by the authorities. Unfortunately for them, their claim rings hollow when the president is also taking the blows.
What would have happened if President Roh had gotten off scot-free and only the Grand National Party was battered by the prosecution’s investigation? The opposition would most likely have tried to impeach the president. The prosecution would have been ruined and President Roh would have been ruined, too.
If one recalls correctly, Mr. Roh only started speaking confidently after the prosecution began its investigation of his former aides. The president boldly proposed a public vote of confidence over the matter. Consequently, it was the prosecution’s probe that saved the president. This prosecution was not created by carrots or sticks. This prosecution was created by trust, whether willingly or not.

* The writer is political news editor of the JoonAng Ilbo.

by Lee Youn-hong
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