Moon absolves bureaucrats of past government’s policies

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Moon absolves bureaucrats of past government’s policies

President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday that lower-level bureaucrats who were involved in policy decisions under the former administration, even if they were illegal, should not be punished or disadvantaged for their work.

The call came amid fears of indictment among bureaucrats who worked on projects under former President Park Geun-hye, who was ousted from office last year on corruption charges.

On March 28, a fact-finding committee recommended that prosecutors investigate 25 senior officials for abuse of power, breach of trust and embezzlement related to the Park government’s push for state-authored history textbooks.

Among the 25 people are President Park herself; her two chiefs of staff, Kim Ki-choon and Lee Byung-kee; and the education minister and vice minister at the time.

As an opposition lawmaker during the Park administration, Moon vehemently opposed state-authored history textbooks, calling them a threat to democratic values.

“As I have repeatedly emphasized, the purpose of uprooting corruptive practices is to correct unjust policies and systems, not to punish individuals,” Moon said during a cabinet meeting at the Blue House on Tuesday.

“While legal punishment is inevitable for those who committed brazenly illegal acts, those who simply committed policy mistakes should not be subject to legal prosecution,” referring to the low-level bureaucrats.

In an apparent move to ease their concerns, Moon said those in the lower ranks of government who simply followed orders “should not be placed at a disadvantage” because they had no choice but to tow the government line at the time.

Park, who was convicted of bribery and abuse of power and sentenced to 24 years in prison last Friday, pushed for state-authored history textbooks in 2014 because the government “must correct children’s biased views.”

Her father, Park Chung Hee, has a controversial image in Korea as both the man who helped modernize its economy and ruled the country as a dictator.

Education Ministry officials involved in the project were among the 25 senior officials that the committee recommended for prosecutorial investigation.

They also recommended 10 ministry officials be internally investigated and punished in accordance with internal regulations, sending jitters in the bureaucratic community.

The committee’s recommendation for legal action and internal punishment, which marked the culmination of a seven-month probe, has made bureaucrats cautious about getting involved in policies that could be criticized later by a different government.

Sensing such sentiment, Moon called on each ministry to clarify the government’s position that rank-and-file bureaucrats will not be prosecuted or punished for having followed orders from the former government.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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