This land is whose land?

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This land is whose land?


Chun Young-gi
The author is a columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.

In her inauguration speech, Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae stressed the importance of “democratic control” over the prosecution. What Choo needs is actually “self-control of power.” When she is given power, she tends to get excited. When she was giving a speech as the chairman of the ruling Democratic Party in September 2017, she abruptly promoted the public concept of land by saying, “In Korea, housing rents are higher than farm rents. We need a massive rent reform, as strong as land reform.”

In October, she quoted American socialist Henry George. “If he were alive, he would have supported the Chinese system, in which the people were given the right to use land while the state owns the properties right,” she said. It was an ambiguous remark as it was blurry on whether we should follow the Chinese system or not. It should be reminded that the recent protests by the Hong Kong residents against China are based on the fears of the control of the Communist Party, which has the final right to dispose the properties of each individual.

During the confirmation hearing to become justice minister last week, Choo insisted that she had not mentioned the nationalization of land. But skepticisms still linger about how far she will go protect the private properties of the people as the protector of the rule of law in this country, which promotes capitalist economy. Her idea about land is no different from that of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk. When he was the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, Choo made a failed attempt to include the public concept of land in a constitutional amendment bill. At the time, Choo supported it. Choo must not try to propose a similar constitutional amendment after the April 15 general elections, even if the ruling party wins a victory.

After President Moon Jae-in formalized her appointment, she said, “The people’s demand — and support — for prosecutorial reforms has peaked. I will speed up the democratic control over the prosecution.” The people, however, are more strongly demanding reform of the administration, not the prosecution. The changes of the system and culture of the prosecution have already been accomplished after Moon made detailed orders and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl took bold self-reform measures. For example, Cho Kuk, Yoo Jae-soo, Song Byung-gi, and Baek Won-woo — all suspects of abuse-of-power scandals — are receiving treatments that were unimaginable during the past conservative administrations. Their privacies were protected even while the prosecution was barred from making their charges public through the media.

If new Justice Minister Choo wants to speed up her “democratic control” over the prosecution, it can only be interpreted as an intention to use her appointment rights to affect the prosecution’s ongoing investigations of the Blue House. Speculations are already high that she will reassign Bae Seong-beom, head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office; Park Chan-ho, head of the public investigation department of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office; and Han Dong-hoon, head of the anticorruption investigation department of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, all of whom were appointed to their posts less than six months ago, as well as other key prosecutors in the teams that investigate the cases concerning the Blue House’s alleged abuse of power — in order to disable Yoon’s investigative powers. Under the justification of democratic control, the prosecution’s investigations will likely be obstructed.

Choo may become tempted to receive specific reports from the prosecution about the progresses in the investigations and command the probes. But all reports and orders are documented. She should be extra careful because it is easy to commit an abuse of power or dereliction of duty.

Let’s say prosecutors decided to investigate a suspicion that President Moon had issued an order to initiate a police probe against an opposition politician and Choo learned about it during her democratic control over the prosecution. If Choo informed Moon of the probe in advance or obstruct the investigation, she would be abusing her power of office as justice minister. If she does not inform the president or supports the probe, she will commit dereliction of duty.

This dilemma is why all justice ministers have tried to keep a distance from the prosecution’s probes based on laws and established practices. Democratic control can be a trap. When it is too hard, metal can be broken. This administration, for some reason, believes that toughness is everything. Instead of exercising democratic control, it is time to exercise self-control of power.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 6, Page 30
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