Signs of abnormal governanceEven after submitting his resignation last week in protest of new Justice Minister Park Beom-kye’s unilateral reshuffle of top prosecutors, Shin Hyun-soo, President Moon Jae-in’s senior secretary for civil affairs, returned to his office in the Blue House Monday. In his follow-up appointments of senior prosecutors, Justice Minister Park tried to ease tension between the ministry and the prosecution over his lopsided reshuffle of top prosecutors by allowing a senior prosecutor, who confronted Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office head Lee Seong-yun over sensitive issues, to keep his seat in the powerful prosecution office.
However, such a quick fix cannot fully address the conflict between the top law enforcement agency and the government. First of all, the Blue House must clear all the suspicion surrounding President Moon, his senior secretary for civil affairs and the justice minister over the minister’s blitzkrieg-like announcement of appointments of top prosecutors last week. Given Moon’s repeated vow to reform the prosecution, the lead-up to such surprise appointments must be explained.
At the same time, someone in the government must take responsibility for the tendering of the resignation by Shin less than two months after his appointment. Despite the Blue House’s denial, public distrust is deepening over the possibility of the justice minister having one-sidedly announced the appointments of top prosecutors even without a presidential endorsement.
Above all, the justice minister’s decision to retain controversial Lee Seong-yun, President Moon’s ally, as head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office was inappropriate. Even a deputy head of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office strongly demanded Lee be replaced given his repeated blocking of prosecution investigations into abuse of power and corruption involving the Blue House and government. If the appointments of top prosecutors had followed normal procedure, the justice minister would not have had to announce them on Sunday. We wonder if the Moon administration really believes that preventing prosecutors from digging up dirt on the powers that be is part of the reforms it wants to achieve.
The latest episode makes us doubt the role of a president in running a government. Shin faithfully worked with Moon in the Blue House when Moon served as a senior secretary for civil affairs to President Roh Moo-hyun. In the early days of the Roh administration, Shin helped reform the mighty National Intelligence Service as head of the planning department of the spy agency. He has been deeply trusted by Moon ever since he was recruited as Moon’s civil secretary. At the time, Moon’s chief of staff even praised Shin for sharing the “same philosophy with the president on judicial reforms.”
If so, why did Shin tender his resignation less than two months after his recruitment? Political pundits link it to the possibility that Moon has been convinced of the need to take a path of conflict after being pressured by hard-liners. Coordination between the Blue House and government ministries must be recovered. If Moon sticks to a narrow-minded approach to administering the nation, he can hardly overcome a plethora of national crises like the pandemic.