En­e­mies of fair so­ci­ety

The Korea Times - - OPINION - Park Yoon-bae The au­thor ([email protected]­re­atimes.co.kr) is the chief ed­i­to­rial writer of The Korea Times.

Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in promised to cre­ate a fair so­ci­ety when he took of­fice in May 2017. He also came up with a motto: “Op­por­tu­ni­ties are equal, the process is fair, and the out­come is just.”

The motto was eye-catch­ing. Many South Kore­ans have been crav­ing for equal­ity, fair­ness and jus­tice, es­pe­cially af­ter Moon was elected pres­i­dent fol­low­ing his pre­de­ces­sor Park Geun-hye be­ing im­peached for cor­rup­tion.

But now, Moon risks reneg­ing on his prom­ise by ap­point­ing Cho Kuk, one of his most trusted aides, as jus­tice min­is­ter. The rea­son is be­cause Cho, an icon of so­cial jus­tice and re­form, has been ex­posed as a hyp­ocrite. Since his nom­i­na­tion early last month, he has been dogged by a se­ries of al­le­ga­tions that he and his fam­ily might have been in­volved in un­fair and cor­rupt prac­tices.

It is frus­trat­ing to see the whole na­tion sharply di­vided over Cho’s ap­point­ment, which has pit­ted the con­ser­va­tive op­po­si­tion par­ties against the lib­eral rul­ing party. More than half of the peo­ple are still against Cho be­com­ing jus­tice min­is­ter.

Par­tic­u­larly col­lege stu­dents and young adults have raised their voices against the Seoul Na­tional Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor and for­mer se­nior pres­i­den­tial sec­re­tary for civil af­fairs. They vented their pent-up anger at the Moon ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lip serve and its fail­ure to play fair.

Their fury is fu­eled by skep­ti­cism that lit­tle has changed since the mass can­dlelit protests in late 2016 and early 2017 that con­trib­uted to the ouster of for­mer Pres­i­dent Park. Moon could not have taken power with­out tak­ing ad­van­tage of th­ese protests.

With the down­fall of Park, South Kore­ans could af­ford to ex­pect hope for a dras­tic change and a bet­ter fu­ture. They chose Moon as their new leader to re­vive the coun­try’s democ­racy by root­ing out cor­rup­tion and ush­er­ing in clean pol­i­tics. Moon also vowed to elim­i­nate the “ac­cu­mu­lated evils” of our so­ci­ety.

How­ever, Cho’s ap­point­ment has re­vealed the hypocrisy of po­lit­i­cal power. It is a self-con­tra­dic­tion for Moon to al­low such a hyp­ocrite as Cho to lead the Min­istry of Jus­tice. Moon de­serves crit­i­cism for be­tray­ing the peo­ple’s as­pi­ra­tions for a fair and just so­ci­ety.

Moon picked Cho as jus­tice min­is­ter as part of his ef­forts to re­form the prose­cu­tion, which has long been crit­i­cized for serv­ing as a hand­maiden to po­lit­i­cal power. In the eyes of Moon, Cho was the best per­son to push this re­form as he has ex­per­tise in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and no prior con­nec­tions with the agency.

And yet, the Pres­i­dent should have ap­plied much stricter mo­ral and eth­i­cal stan­dards to Cho be­fore nom­i­nat­ing him. It is a fail­ure by Cheong Wa Dae to not un­der­take rig­or­ous vet­ting to check his qual­i­fi­ca­tions for the Cab­i­net post.

Now the Moon govern­ment should do its best to help the prose­cu­tion dig deeper into the cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions against Cho. It should not try to in­flu­ence or ham­per the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in or­der to pro­tect him and his fam­ily. It is non­sense for Cheong Wa Dae and the rul­ing party to de­nounce the on­go­ing probe as the prose­cu­tion’s at­tempt at po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion.

Cho might be­come the coun­try’s first jus­tice min­is­ter to be rel­e­gated to a crim­i­nal sus­pect. His wife, a Dongyang Univer­sity pro­fes­sor, was in­dicted for fab­ri­cat­ing the school pres­i­dent’s award to help her daugh­ter get ad­mit­ted to Pu­san Na­tional Univer­sity’s Grad­u­ate School of Medicine. She is also sus­pected of mak­ing du­bi­ous in­vest­ments in a pri­vate eq­uity fund.

Cho and his wife face al­le­ga­tions that they used their in­flu­ence and con­nec­tions with aca­demics to help their daugh­ter en­ter a pres­ti­gious col­lege and grad­u­ate schools, and re­ceive schol­ar­ships. It de­fies com­mon sense for the daugh­ter, then a high school stu­dent, to be named the lead au­thor of a med­i­cal the­sis while tak­ing part in a two-week in­tern­ship at a Dankook Univer­sity re­search cen­ter in 2008.

If there is any les­son to be learned from all the brouhaha over the new jus­tice min­is­ter, it is that Korea has no fu­ture as long as the elite in our so­ci­ety are en­grossed in pro­tect­ing their own vested in­ter­ests and priv­i­leges at the sac­ri­fice of or­di­nary peo­ple.

The prob­lem is not con­fined to Cho and his fam­ily. The top 10 per­cent of Korean so­ci­ety — the rich and priv­i­leged class rep­re­sented by chae­bol own­ers, bu­reau­crats, bankers and pro­fes­sion­als such as lawyers, doc­tors and pro­fes­sors — have formed their own league to mo­nop­o­lize wealth, ed­u­ca­tion and job op­por­tu­ni­ties. They are the en­e­mies of a fair so­ci­ety. They have blocked so­cial mo­bil­ity for the re­main­ing 90 per­cent, es­pe­cially the poor.

We can­not re­al­ize a fair so­ci­ety with­out break­ing the deeply en­trenched win­ner-take-all sys­tem. The Cho Kuk case sim­ply shows Korea still has a long way to go be­fore cre­at­ing a level play­ing field to en­sure fair com­pe­ti­tion and equal op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Korea, Republic

© PressReader. All rights reserved.