Benevolent servantsShortly after the Park Geun-hye administration was launched, two incidents that shook the Blue House and the prosecution took place one year apart. An investigation took place in Park’s first year into the allegation that the National Intelligence Service had carried out a cyber-operation to back her during the presidential election. The next year, an investigation took place into the Sewol ferry’s sinking and the cause. The two cases were the poisoned chalice that any administration wants to avoid. They were cases that could unsettle the basis of a government depending on the outcomes. Special investigation teams were created for both cases and massive probes followed, with a devastating aftermath.
Chae Dong-wook, responsible for the intelligence agency’s alleged influence over the election, was forced to resign from the prosecutor-general post. The Sewol investigation didn’t go smoothly as it came belatedly and further delayed. After President Moon Jae-in took office, officials involved in both cases began to speak, and a confrontation between the Blue House, the Justice Ministry and the prosecution was revealed. The bare faces of those in power and the prosecution were also revealed.
Former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who was the justice minister at the time of both investigations, was accused of putting inappropriate pressure on the prosecution. Chae recently said Hwang was not happy about indicting former intelligence head Won Se-hoon and another senior official on charges of election law violations. The prosecution wanted to seek a warrant to detain the suspects for the charges, but the Ministry of Justice refused. The prosecution compromised by indicting them with the election law violations without physical detention, Chae said. “I could not say black was white, even though I conceded on detention,” Chae said.
The controversy surrounding the Sewol investigation is similar. The special investigation team reported to the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office that it will indict the captain of patrol vessel no. 123 with the Coast Guard on charges of destroying the ship’s log and involuntary manslaughter. But the Ministry of Justice refused, and the prosecutors’ request to detain the suspect only on the document destruction charge was denied.
For the following two months, Cho Eun-seok, criminal division head of the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, confronted the ministry’s leadership, stressing that the captain must be indicted for involuntary manslaughter. Cho finally won the battle and included the charge.
In the following months, most of the prosecutors who were involved in the probe were demoted or assigned to lesser important posts. “Unless Hwang worried that the ruling party would lose the elections in June and July if the Coast Guard was held accountable, it wasn’t something he should have insisted so stubbornly,” an investigator said. “You know whether it is a punishment out of love or a punishment out of rage when you are the person who is taking it.”
Truth will be revealed through reinvestigation or a fact-finding mission. What’s important is the attitude of a public servant confirmed in the two cases.
Wei Zheng, a chancellor of the Tang dynasty who supported Emperor Taizong to accomplish the “Reign of Zhenguan,” a golden age in Chinese history, praised a benevolent servant higher than a loyal servant. A loyal servant gives the ruler much advice but will be killed eventually and leave his own name behind. The ruler becomes a foolish king and the country will be destroyed. A benevolent servant gives much advice to a ruler but makes sure that the ruler will listen carefully so they can enjoy their prosperity together, he said.
Yoon Seok-youl, recently appointed head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office who challenged the direction of the probe into the intelligence agency’s influence over the election, and Roh Tae-kang, recently appointed as the vice minister of culture, sports and tourism, and former Culture Minister Yoo Jin-ryong, both fired by Park, are loyal servants.
Restoring honor was impossible in an ancient dynasty, but the expiration date of an administration is five years in our time. It just takes five years for a traitor to become an honorable servant.
As Chae said, the clock of history, which reveals all truth over time, is ticking faster and faster. If a president is unworthy, the presidency ends in under five years.
The prosecutors who worked on the Sewol investigation should be considered benevolent servants. They steadily persuaded the Ministry of Justice to keep probing.
The current appointment system, in which officials from the planning departments of the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office are named to key posts in the investigation departments, is a structure that produces treacherous subjects. The system kills the wild nature of prosecutors and tames them to follow the orders of senior officials. This must change as soon as possible.
The country will become healthy only when benevolent servants are working in various posts of ministries and challenging decisions throughout the decision-making process from the rank-and-file servant to ministers. Needless to say, senior officials who listen and accept the benevolent servants’ suggestions are also important.
The Park administration failed because the culture of speaking freely disappeared.
It is time for the country to nurture 100,000 benevolent servants. Today, the country has 1.61 million public servants.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 19, Page 28
*The author is an editorial write of the JoongAng Ilbo.