A suspicious hurry

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A suspicious hurry

President Yoon Suk-yeol hurries to set up an extraordinary team for the management of information on candidates for public offices under the Ministry of Justice after shutting down the office of the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs that handled the job in the previous administrations. But the new attempt raises concerns about apparent side effects from too much authority for Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon. The new experiment is also being pushed by revising a presidential decree without amending the related laws.

The Yoon administration is set to propose a revision to allow the Justice Ministry to gather and manage personal information about candidates for senior offices in a Cabinet meeting Tuesday. The presidential office skipped any process needed to reflect public opinion. The revision already went through deliberations by the Ministry of Government Legislation last Thursday and a deputy ministerial-level meeting the following day. If the revision is endorsed in a Cabinet meeting today, a new vetting team is expected to launch as early as June 7. We wonder why the president rushes to establish such a powerful body.

If you look into the revision, it goes overboard in many respects. First of all, the new 20-member team headed by a director-level official will be comprised of prosecutors, police officers and officials from the National Tax Service, National Intelligence Service and Financial Supervisory Service.

If the ministry retains the authority to screen and collect personnel information from other ministries, it could emerge as a mighty organization in the government. Minister Han is a confidante of the president. Han vowed that he will not get an intermediate briefing from the team and also separate it from the ministry building to ensure its independence. But that can hardly suffice. Though the ministry says it will only verify the qualifications of candidates in the initial stages, the decision will most likely be affected by two officials, both prosecutors, in charge of personnel affairs and public office discipline in the presidential office.

Nevertheless, the justice minister described the change as “progress in screening qualifications as top officials, because the job will be dealt with on a constant basis from now rather than being handled in a secret manner as in the past.” The minister promised to assign the job to a career bureaucrat, but it lacks any mechanism to avoid power abuse.

The Democratic Party (DP) has threatened to pass a motion to dismiss the justice minister if the Yoon administration pushes to establish the team. If the People Power Party and the DP battle over the launch of the body, Yoon can hardly expect cooperation from the opposition.
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