Where is Mr. Clean Hands?Ahn Dae-hee, a former Supreme Court justice who was named the prime minister to spearhead cleaning house and reforming officialdom following the government’s poor handling of the Sewol ferry crisis, withdrew himself from the nomination. His scandalous exit exacerbated public disappointment in the government. Not all of the bodies have been recovered from the Sewol ferry that sunk off the southern coast on April 16. The government’s proposed follow-up measures - dismantling the coast guard and reorganizing ministries - have been challenged as half-baked and ineffective. The legislature is at a stalemate ahead of the midterm elections on June 4. At times like these, we all need to stay calm.
Upon appointment, Ahn addressed the public with solemn eagerness to take on the reform job. “Materialism and greed can contaminate and ruin society as we have discovered from the Sewol ferry crisis. If I get the chance, I want to contribute in rebuilding the foundation of the country and society by eradicating illicit practices and corruption,” he said. Until then, he was highly regarded as an upright veteran prosecutor and justice. But he had to disgracefully bow out before he made it to the confirmation hearing because he himself had been tainted with materialism and greed. The public was shattered to learn that the man who once had been referred as “the people’s prosecutor” and “Mr. Clean Hands” during his civil service had amassed 1.6 billion won ($1.56 million) in less than a year of private practice through connections in the prosecutor’s office and court. It was not just a crushing moment for an individual, but for the entire elite class. The only comfort was that Ahn was sensible enough to walk away before he further disgraced himself.
The fiasco has again confirmed the severe problems with President Park Geun-hye’s recruitment system. Park handpicked Ahn because she believed the lawyer was best qualified to lead the crusade to uproot the long tradition of collusive ties between the business sector and bureaucracy. But the Blue House underestimated the ramifications of Ahn’s post-retirement trajectory. The fault lies with the president’s chief of staff Kim Ki-choon and Hong Kyung-shik, the senior secretary of civil affairs. They knew Ahn well because they all came from the prosecutor’s office. They might have been too familiar with the old boys’ network tradition that they underestimated the public’s response to Ahn’s wealth.
The president also must rethink her partiality for prosecutors and judges. The Sewol disaster taught how important it is to exercise power primarily to serve the people. Today’s age calls for leaders to share power and offer compassion and good sense in order to empathize with the people. That cannot be delivered by someone who is used to selecting people strictly to practice law and order. Park must open her eyes and broaden her spectrum of recruitment. She cannot afford any more missteps in appointments. We need a humble prime minister who works for the people.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 29, Page 34