Abuses of public powerThe Prime Minister’s Office filed charges with the prosecution against four officials from its ethics team suspected of spying on a civilian critical of the president. They will be investigated on charges of abusing public power, coercion and interfering with business affairs. The Prime Minister’s Office referred the case to the prosecution after an internal inquest found that the officials may have violated the code of conduct for public servants.
The prosecution should clarify the allegations, including their connections to the Yeongpo Club, a private organization of public servants who are from Yeongil and Pohang, the president’s hometown. They should also examine the disruption in the reporting system and the involvement of presidential aides in these affairs.
The case suggests the continued importance of underground connections in the public service sector. Moreover, there are public officials who assume their role is to dominate rather than to serve the public. The members of the public ethics team in the Prime Minister’s Office were known as “angels of darkness,” wielding unlimited authority. Ruling with such an iron fist made them think they could use it against civilians as well.
The case also underscores our society’s obsession with personal connections, which in this case trumped the normal chain of command and reporting system. The report on the actions of the civilian, who posted a video critical of the president on his blog, was made to a presidential aide who is a member of the Yeongpo Club instead of the Prime Minister’s Office.
The prosecution must also delve into the activities of the Yeongpo Club. There are many hometown fraternity associations. But the government has been accused of favoring officials from a certain region who are seated in key posts. The opposition Democratic Party is already pointing to certain members of the Cabinet and the presidential secretariat for their involvement in the case. The prosecution must investigate and determine if a higher-level official is accountable for approving the illegal surveillance activities on a civilian. Government offices cannot for any reason allow themselves to be swayed by a private organization.
The officials accused of the alleged offense seem oblivious of the fact that times have changed. Gone are the days when public authorities can intimidate civilians. The victim filed a complaint and exposed the dark side of governmental affairs. Today’s civilians are aware of covert government activities, yet public servants still live in the authoritarian era. Such abuses of public power must be reined in to re-establish discipline in public office.