The elite can agree on one thing

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The elite can agree on one thing

Yun Hee-suk 
The author is a former lawmaker.

“The Attorney,” made after the term of the late President Roh Moo-hyun, sold over 10 million ticket sales in 2013. In the movie, elite prosecutors and judges, except for a defense attorney with a poor educational background, managed their networks and laughed at the value of human rights.
The movie was a hit because it focused on the people’s anger toward the power elite’s practice of abusing their power. Populism, fed by such anger, is a problem in all countries, but Korean society feels the rage more intensely because the cartel of the elite is overt and the people’s awareness is changing fast.  
In the past, ordinary people were intimidated before the few who graduated from elite schools and had powerful jobs. But the gap has narrowed as the quality of lives of the overall populations has improved. Society also requires higher standards for the elite. And yet, transparency of officialdom is too slowly improving.
For example, we all know that retired high-profile judges and prosecutors are receiving expensive retainer fees because they are capable of influencing trials. Paying a high retainer fee to influence a trial means there is a bigger interest linked to it, and there is likely a possibility that the opposite party will face an unjust loss. How can an advanced country possibly allow such unjustice?
Retired public servants from economic ministries are also a problem. It is rare for them to note their former titles on their name cards after they become advisors to major law firms. It is perhaps because they are not proud of the practice, because their expensive paychecks will pay to make their former colleagues’ lives difficult. Public servants who were junior to them would be under psychological pressure that their former superiors may return as their bosses again. Under that pressure, they may cut corners for their former superiors or distort public decisions. Although Prime Minister Han Duck-soo insisted during his confirmation hearing that he had never telephoned or asked for a favor to incumbent public servants, distrust by society made a serious impact on his confirmation process.
Although we point out the problems repeatedly, they remain unresolved. Why? The reason is because politicians have no sincere willingness to resolve them. They just put up a show or rush to make an ineffective law. Professor Kang Jun-man, a liberal political commentator, wrote in a book that both liberals and conservatives are engaged in the practice of offering special treatment to former high-ranking officials for possible influence-peddling. In order to prevent populist politicians from ruining the country by abusing the people’s anger, it is necessary to end the cartel of the establishment and eradicate social distrust. But the reality remains unchanged.
The hostile symbiosis between political groups is blocking the advancement of our society. The latest confirmation processes of cabinet ministers are an example. The Democratic Party proposed that if the president decides to withdraw his nomination of the justice minister, it will approve the confirmation motion of the prime minister in return, treating the prime minister confirmation as if it were a winner’s tip.
And then, it spent about 10 hours during the confirmation hearing of the prime minister to criticize his high salary from Kim & Chang law firm as an advisor. The party tried to save face later by proposing a bill that would bar law firm advisors from returning to top public servant posts temporarily. Both largest parties have no intention to fundamentally end the practice. As if it is something they would take advantage of forever, they are keeping the origin of the social conflicts.  
When major tasks such as labor, education and pension system reforms are urgent, the first step will be referring to the current demand for fairness. When the people have no trust in the elite who distort public processes, how can the people trust the reform plans they present? Let’s stop the show and create a realistic plan so that retired public officials will maintain their public attitudes and make contributions after receiving proper salaries. Instead of wasting energy on insulting a few particular people, let’s use the energy to save society. The ordinary people are steadily accumulating a feeling of deprivation and that is a risky factor that will threaten our society.
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