Misconduct in the presidential staff has reached a dangerous level.
A special inspector belonging to the office of the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs was reported by news media to have asked the police privately for information on an ongoing investigation into a bribery case implicating his acquaintance, a construction developer.
An internal probe of the incident reportedly found that he had played golf with other inspectors on weekdays, apparently with the expenses paid for by a civilian.
If the allegation is true, the inspectors could be charged with bribery.
They were supposed to inspect senior officials of government ministries and public enterprises to check for abuses of power. Now they are the ones who have fallen under suspicion.
If they exerted private influence on other government agencies and played golf in breach of ethical regulations or graft laws, the public has the right to know.
Furthermore, Cheong Wa Dae gave the impression that it tried to hide the misdeeds. Asked by reporters to elaborate on the irregularities, its spokesperson replied: “We cannot confirm suspicions about the irregularities because they concerned special inspectors,” or “the reported weekday golf outings are an unconfirmed fact.”
The reason for its refusal to clarify the irregularities is hardly convincing. Is it that difficult to clarify whether they played golf on weekdays or not?
The presidential office said last week that it had returned all of the special inspectors to the prosecution and police, which had dispatched them to Cheong Wa Dae, because an internal probe found some of them were involved in irregularities.
About two weeks before this measure was taken, the presidential office had reportedly returned the special inspector who had asked the police for information on its investigation into a bribery case involving his acquaintance.
Until news on the return of the special inspector to the prosecution broke out, Cheong Wa Dae had kept silent -- as if nothing had happened. Then, a day after the news broke out, it announced the replacement of all of the special inspectors. If the return of the special inspector to his original organization had not been exposed by news media, the irregularities might have been buried and other special inspectors might have stayed.
The administration under President Moon Jae-in has dug up power abuses under the previous administration and punished officials implicated in them.
It disclosed any suspicion related to the previous administration, no matter how minor. But now it appears to be trying to say as little as possible about its own problems.
The senior presidential secretary for civil affairs is supposed to command and supervise Cheong Wa Dae’s special inspectors of government ministries and public enterprises.
But Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs Cho Kuk said nothing about his responsibilities for the special inspectors in question. There was no word of apology, either.
“I suggested (to Moon’s chief of staff Im Jong-seok) the return of all of the special inspectors to their original agencies that dispatched them to the presidential office,” Cho said. “I requested the prosecution and police launch an immediate and thorough investigation into them.”
He spoke like an outside observer, not a supervisor in charge.
This is not the first time that presidential staff members have shown moral laxity and aberrant behavior.
A presidential security service officer was booked last month on charges of assaulting a man at a bar near Cheong Wa Dae and violently resisting arrest.
A protocol secretary was caught driving under the influence and was sacked.
Moon posted on Facebook on Sunday, “I am well aware of many issues awaiting me at home. A just society, I pledge again to achieve the national aspiration.”
If he intends to remedy the slack discipline and pursue this aspiration seriously, the irregularities in question must be clarified and officials in charge of the special inspectors in question must be held to account.