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New state agency spat (KOR)

Oct 19,2019
Rivaling political parties have moved onto another sticking point — the installment of a new state institution with the authority to investigate the corruption of senior government employees — after Justice Minister Cho Kuk resigned. Establishing a new investigative power should be thoroughly examined, given the impact on individual rights.

Ruling and other parties met to discuss the installment of an anti-corruption entity and dividing investigative power between the prosecution and police on Thursday but failed to iron out differences. The ruling Democratic Party cited the public protests as civilian demand for fast progress in reforming the law enforcement’s power. The Liberty Korea Party opposed the creation of a new investigative authority that could be made up of liberal figures out to wield more power.

The cause behind prosecutorial reform must be reassessed. The call for prosecutorial reform stemmed from complaints about infringement on civilian rights from a single powerful investigative authority and the concerns about political influence. The design is to spread out the investigative and indictment authorities to ensure neutrality in state investigations of offenses. Setting up a new state agency with both investigative and indictment authority to oversee prosecution may only cause ill effects.

If the prosecution and the new anti-corruption agency compete or clash over power, the social confusion could be massive. The constitutional right ensuring equality before law can be violated if criminal investigations are separated by having common civilians face prosecution and government officials face the anti-corruption agency for queries regarding wrongdoings.

An independent agency may be needed to investigate the sitting power and negligence of the prosecution. But the new institution must be thoroughly autonomous to be free from political influence. The ruling party proposes that the head of the new agency is screened and named by a seven-member board comprising of the justice minister, court administrative chief, head of the Korean Bar Association and two other members each recommended by the ruling and opposition parties. The president then can pick from two short-listed names. Political neutrality cannot be ensured as the president, government and ruling party are all involved.

If the agency is really needed, it should be placed under the legislation not the president.

The Democratic Party plans to vote on the fast-track bills from Oct. 29.

JoongAng Sunday, Oct. 19, Page 30