Pass the surveillance law

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Pass the surveillance law

The ruling Saenuri Party’s proposal to enact a special surveillance law to preemptively contain corruption among presidential family members, relatives and aides as well as other political bigwigs is refreshing and desirable. It was tailor-made to root out the deep-seated corruption and irregularities that have dirtied and shamed our political history.

An independent special surveillance team will be established at the recommendation of the National Assembly. So far, the Senior Secretariat Office of Civilian Affairs at the presidential office has been in charge of keeping tabs on presidential relatives and senior officials. The surveillance activities could not have been firm or fair. Instead of containing and seeking punitive actions against relatives or close acquaintances of the president, the office was instead busy trying to cover up their wrongdoings and clean up their mess.

Under the proposal, almost all powerful public offices and officials will come under scrutiny by the new independent organization. The heads of the National Intelligence Service, Board of Audit and Inspection, National Tax Service, and the prosecutor general, who so far have been free from any interference or surveillance, will not be exceptions. The special investigators also have the authority to include any other public offices that influence state affairs.

The new establishment will also be granted the right to searches and seizures. Investigators cannot have effective power if they lack effective means. The law will allow investigators access to financial accounts and phone records. They can take strong punitive measures that even the president cannot veto or pardon.

But the question is whether the plan will actually be carried out. We have repeatedly been promised strong mechanisms to contain and end corruption. And we have been repeatedly disappointed. Once they gain power, they have second thoughts on the prerogatives, perks and invested power. A presidential candidate can say anything pleasing to the ear. But once safely in office, presidents quietly walked away from promises that can restrict their power. Surveillance will also likely lead to strong protests citing privacy rights.

If the National Assembly is serious about getting tough on corruption, it should pass the law before a new president is elected. The reform bill has been ordered by presidential candidate Park Geun-hye. The ruling party should campaign to enact the law during the current session. If not, the proposal will be seen as mere campaign rhetoric.

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