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[Editorial] End imperial presidency

Yoon to abolish office of senior secretary for civil affairs, appoint special inspector

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol made it clear his plan to abolish the office of senior presidential secretary for civil affairs. He also plans to appoint a special inspector, a Cheong Wa Dae post left vacated so far by President Moon Jae-in, when he takes office.

The office watches public officials for irregularities, weighs up nominees for important government posts, and is a bridge between the president and the Ministry of Justice. Also as a command center over the prosecution and police, it supports presidential authority.

The post of a special inspector in the presidential office was created in 2014 to prevent corruption by the president’s spouse and close relatives and senior presidential secretaries.

Yoon said on Monday that the office effectively controlled political opponents of the president and secretly investigated people through its grip on inspection and investigation agencies. In a word, it abused its power.

Under the Moon administration, the office even looked into private calls made on officials’ mobile phones it seized semicoercively under the pretext of inspection. The office was allegedly involved in Cheong Wa Dae’s interference with the Ulsan mayoral election in a bid to make an old friend of the president become a mayor.

It is hard to justify a presidential organ that tries to strengthen the power of the president through a means of scrutinizing officials or tightening discipline over them. Abolishing the office should be the first step to eliminate politically motivated inspections and dismantle apparatus for the imperial presidency.

Yoon’s plan to appoint a special inspector in Cheong Wa Dae is in the same vein as his pledge to abolish the office of the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs. It is a move to put a check on the presidency which is already too powerful.

Moon left the post vacant. He effectively blocked any inspection and probe of his family and close relatives. If Korea is not a despotic country, nobody should be an exception to the rule of law. Not even the president.

With the post remaining vacant, allegations involving Cheong Wa Dae have piled up. For example, the presidential office allegedly intervened in the Ulsan election and suspended inspections of bribery allegations involving a former Busan vice mayor close to Moon. The nation was jolted by irregularities involving Cho Kuk, Moon’s former senior secretary for civil affairs, who was later appointed as Justice Minister, and his family. Lee Sang-jik, a former Democratic Party of Korea lawmaker currently in jail for embezzlement and breach of trust, is suspected of giving Moon’s son-in-law a job at a budget airline he founded and also of helping Moon’s daughter and her family emigrate to Thailand.

By vowing to appoint a special inspector Yoon means he would allow any allegations involving his family and close relatives to be handled strictly according to the law.

During the presidential election campaign, Yoon’s wife was found to have falsified her career when she applied for a teaching job in a university, and she apologized to the public. She is also suspected of being involved in a stock price manipulation scheme. Yoon’s mother-in-law is waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision on charges that she received medical care benefits she was not entitled to.

People already know all this. If new allegations emerge after Yoon takes office, they should be clarified. If he tries to cover them up, people will begin to turn their backs.

Yoon must appoint a special inspector early in his term and let the inspector do his or her duty properly. Above all, he must not forget his initial determination to deal strictly with allegations involving the first family. People are watching.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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