Shame on you, prime minister

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Shame on you, prime minister

Whenever I am posted to a new agency, I approach the agency’s head and have a small talk. It makes other civil servants think I am close to the minister. While the conversation is mostly about lunch or weather, the officials cannot overhear what we’re actually talking about. They treat me differently as a result.

But my secret weapon is useless when it comes to the prime minister. I can’t get close to him because he’s surrounded by police escorts. Even when I can, I feel awkward talking about lunch when the guards are listening.

Proximity, when it happens, does have its benefits. It is a rare experience to dash through downtown Seoul in rush hour, escorted by police cars. Traffic is stopped until the motorcade passes by. Thanks to the prime minister, I learned how wonderful empty roads can be.

The prime minister can clear the streets, but his powers obviously go beyond that. According to the Constitution, “The prime minister assists the president and directs the executive ministries from active duty.” But does this actually give the prime minister the authority to lead government agencies?

Right after Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo was inaugurated, he mentioned “an all-out war against corruption” in the statement to the nation, and the prosecutors were furious. In principle, the minister of justice has command of the investigation over the prosecutor general, and the prime minister can direct the Ministry of Justice.

But the prosecutors - and many others - understand the true nature of the prime minister’s diminished authority. Lately, the prime minister is a favorite subject of ridicule online. As Lee Wan-koo stepped down, various parodies about “Chung Hong-won’s return” were posted.

How long should we tolerate the series of happenings caused by the absurd symbiosis of “imperial president” and “figurehead prime minister?” It’s about time we change the existing power structure designed during the Chung Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo administrations 28 years ago.

But constitutional revision is not easy and takes time. Until then, the prime minister needs to save his own dignity. A figurehead does not need security service. North Korea would have no reason to orchestrate a terror attack on a figurehead. There is no reason to keep the busy citizens waiting for the figurehead to pass by. Citizens have far more important business to attend than the prime minister making nominal appearances. The new prime minister must at least be worth an escort service.

When the prime minister has the determination to do as he pleases, rather than acting on the advice of the presidential chiefs of staff, the his position can be meaningful. It would be the beginning for the minister to save himself from becoming a subject of mockery.

The author is the digital news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 30, Page 34


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