A Simple Question: Who's Lying?

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A Simple Question: Who's Lying?

Looking at what''s going on at the National Assembly Select Committee hearings, we cannot understand why ruling and opposition party lawmakers are wasting their time and energy. As usual the lawmakers are busy pointing fingers at one another for the sake of political advantage. Monday''s hearing on illegal loans made by Hanvit Bank and the Korea Credit Guarantee Fund was reminiscent of a gang fight, with witnesses clearly divided between the ruling and opposition parties. Far from disclosing the reality of what happened, the hearing raised a host of new questions.

The key issue in the illegal loan scandal is whether an outsider put pressure on the two financial institutions to extend large illegal loans and payment guarantees to ArcWorld Inc. Some testimony deepened suspicions about the relationship between former Culture and Tourism Minister Park Jie-won, one of President Kim Dae-jung''s closest confidants, and Park Hye-ryong, president of ArcWorld, but the hearing failed to make further progress.

One witness said, "After visiting Mr. Park''s office, Park Hye-ryong said everything would be fine." But there was no further progress amid conflicting testimony. One said, "I got a phone call (from the minister) pressuring me to make the illegal loans," but the former minister said, "I didn''t make the call."

Witnesses were also divided on the reasons for the halt in the investigation of the illegal loans, one saying, "I received an order (to stop the probe)," and another denying such an order. The hearing was not able to uncover the truth of the matter as it could not even clear up the key issues.

Someone is lying. The hearing should work out who the liar is, but we already know we cannot expect the hearing to achieve very much at all. It seems as though the disappointment we experienced in the previous "boutique" scandal and "strike" scandal is going to be repeated again this time. The boutique scandal involved the wives of a prosecutor general and cabinet ministers who allegedly asked the wife of a jailed businessman to buy them luxury clothes in exchange for leniency for her husband. How long will we continue with such ineffective hearings? We need to work out new systems that will allow parliamentary hearings to function properly. It is little wonder that the hearings have been superficial when they have not been given the real authority or powers needed to investigate this case.

We should perhaps look to the example of the United States, where an expert is hired temporarily to interrogate witnesses, thus enabling lawmakers to put forward questions based on what the expert has uncovered in his questioning. A hearing scheduled for Monday to investigate the usage and distribution of public funds has been delayed as the ruling and opposition parties argue about the witnesses who will testify. This delay originates from political interests.

In both of these hearings the opposition party is eager to point out the defects of witnesses without solid evidence, while the ruling party is trying desperately to protect its witnesses. Neither of them is in the right. Public interest is now focused on the public funds hearings. Lawmakers should demonstrate their sincerity in the upcoming investigation of the government''s management of taxpayers'' money.

by Lee Min-woong

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