President Moon Jae-in has started a drive to root out the evils of the past governments, as pledged on his campaign trail.
The drive started three days after he was elected. Moon ordered Cho Kuk, senior secretary for civil affairs, to review prosecutors’ investigations into the leak of a document in late 2004.
The document revealed the existence of Choi Soon-sil and her then husband, Jeong Yun-hoe, and their connection to President Park Geun-hye. It alleged the couple had close ties with Park and appeared more powerful than her.
The real first order to eliminate evils came Monday. Moon ordered the reaudit of policies related to former President Lee Myung-bak’s signature project on four major rivers.
Moon is expected to order reinvestigations of defense contract irregularities found in the Park and Lee administrations and also of Lee’s failed diplomatic initiative to secure overseas natural resources.
However, the review of the investigation into the document leak seems to have no merit.
Many details on the case have already come to light. If Cho’s office digs into the investigation further, it may find something new, but it will likely be minor. It is doubtful that the review of the document leak was so urgent that it became Moon’s first move to carry out the pledge.
Reinvestigation is a job for the prosecution. An order to reinvestigate what was investigated by a previous administration is likely to be viewed as political retaliation, considering that prosecutors will inevitably consider the political situation or presidential intention in their investigations.
Cho once criticized the prosecution for “fighting a dead power but obeying the living power.” An order of reinvestigation is meaningful in uncovering truths and achieving justice, but such an order after a regime change might also be used to tame the prosecution anew.
The Choi scandal was investigated for months by the prosecution and a special counsel. Park was impeached and is in jail. A new president was elected. Her trial over the scandal is underway.
Evils must be removed, but it is questionable if a review of the document leak or reinvestigation of the scandal is needed at this point in time.
The order to reaudit the four rivers project shows that the drive against evils reaches the government before the previous government.
The order came a day before the eighth anniversary of former President Roh Moo-hyun’s death. The opposition Liberty Korea Party suspects that the order might signal the beginning of political revenge for his death. Moon, a former chief secretary to Roh, is said to feel bitter toward Lee because Roh killed himself in the process of being investigated under the Lee administration.
The four rivers project has been evaluated both positively and negatively. It has been useful in securing water against droughts and floods, but sometimes the rivers become polluted with algae.
The project has been audited three times, once under the Lee administration and twice under the Park government. The first audit found a few problems, the second found construction was hasty and shoddy, and the third detected collusion among builders. The fourth one is likely to be tailored to the current administration’s views on the project.
If Moon issues an order, reinvestigation of Lee’s natural resources diplomacy will likely face similar criticism.
Irregularities related to defense contracts, most of them bribery cases, are nothing new. These were not confined to the past two administrations. Arrests were made and sentences were meted out. However, shady dealings and kickbacks do not disappear easily. Tighter oversight is needed.
The evils that should be rooted out are the unfair and irrational systems or practices, not of bygone days, but of the present.
Uncovering the evils of years ago is meaningful in itself, but it would be more significant to solve current problems.
If the drive against evils becomes a political vendetta, it may beget another evil under a new regime. One of the goals of eliminating the injustices of the past should be breaking the vicious circle.