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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 1)

Editorials from Korean dailies 10:42 January 01, 2021

Time to change policy
: Cabinet reshuffle is necessary, but not enough

President Moon Jae-in nominated a three-term ruling party lawmaker as new justice minister in a small-scale Cabinet reshuffle Wednesday. He also nominated a former judge as the inaugural head of a newly established anti-corruption investigative body. These nominations represent Moon's strong determination to complete his much-avowed prosecutorial reform.

Since his May 2017 inauguration, Moon has vowed to reform the prosecution to prevent its abuse of power. As part of the reform, the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) will make its official debut in mid-January as an independent body separate from the prosecution. Moon chose Kim Jin-wook, now serving as a Constitutional Court researcher, to lead the CIO.

The President also picked Rep. Park Beom-kye of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) to replace incumbent Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae who offered to resign last month over her feud with Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. The presidential office said that Park, also a former judge, is the right person to carry out prosecutorial reform.

Rep. Park, if appointed after a confirmation hearing, will be required to end the ongoing conflict between the justice ministry and the prosecution over Yoon's relentless campaign against corrupt officials and politicians of the ruling bloc. He will also have to separate the prosecution's investigative power and its exclusive right to indict criminal suspects to ensure democratic checks and balances.

Moon has no other choice but to replace Choo because of her reckless and irresponsible attempts to kick Yoon out of the prosecution. A Seoul court put the brakes on her drive against Yoon by putting on hold the execution of the justice ministry's decision to suspend Yoon from duty for two months. The court action came after President Moon approved the disciplinary action against Yoon who has been attacked for targeting the inner circle of the political power over corruption allegations.

Both Choo and Moon suffered a setback when the Seoul Administrative Court granted Yoon an injunction against the ministry's punitive action. The Moon administration has come under criticism for trying to tighten its control on the prosecution and tame prosecutors in the name of "prosecutorial reform." Coupled with policy failures regarding soaring housing prices and belated procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, Moon's approval rating has fallen below 40 percent, hitting an all-time low.

Replacing Cabinet ministers is necessary but not enough. Without changing policy directions, the Moon government cannot succeed in its reform drive. Most of all, the administration should not dare to block the prosecution from investigating alleged bribe-taking, election rigging and influence peddling among President Moon's confidants.

Moon may believe he can take direct control of the prosecution by installing a new justice minister. But he should not try to cover up wrongdoings by officials and politicians, including the manipulation of the economic value of the Wolsong-1 reactor in order to shut it down under his nuclear phase-out policy. He must make sincere efforts to promote the prosecution's political neutrality and independence and ensure the rule of law.
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