Stalled witness selection

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Stalled witness selection

The National Assembly’s special committee investigating corruption at savings banks has not yet convened, even though it is supposed to finish the job by Aug. 12. That’s because of a sharp confrontation between the two major political parties over who should be brought in as witnesses. The ruling Grand National Party and opposition Democratic Party have agreed that about 60 crucial figures out of 100 candidates involved in the irregularities will be called.

But both parties are still stuck in a boring game over which politicians should be summoned, and the pool includes bigwigs in the DP, President Lee Myung-bak’s brother and the president’s senior secretaries.

Answering lawmakers’ questions is painful for witnesses, particularly in a setting where committee members treat witnesses like criminals. That naturally calls for a more prudent approach to witness selection for this case than for others.

Yet both camps’ discussion on the issue has fallen way short of our expectations, as they still insist on picking irrelevant figures out of a political need to cause them irrevocable damage during examination sessions.

The DP demands its counterpart bring politicians the DP wants in return for bringing in seven political heavyweights, including former and current floor leaders like Park Jie-won and Kim Jin-pyo. That seems like an over-the-top political offensive resembling the exchange of prisoners during war, rather than something they need to do.

We are wondering if politicians on both political spectrums have a genuine willingness to launch the probe, given that they’ve wasted so much time on witness selection.

Political pundits have raised the suspicion that both parties feel very uncomfortable about the savings-bank corruption scandal. The GNP is anxious about the shocking revelations that have been made and the DP is worried about the misguided leadership at those banks, the top posts of which were mostly taken up by people from Jeolla, the DP’s power base.

The Assembly’s special power to look into massive corruption cases does not end with witness testimony. It faces the daunting challenge of figuring out how to retrieve the hidden assets of bankrupt banks’ major shareholders and how the information on the banks’ suspensions leaked in advance. It must also find who is responsible for such lax supervision over the banks.

They don’t have much time left.

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