|Interior and Safety Minister Chin Young speaks during a joint interview with The Korea Times and the Hankook Ilbo at the Government Complex Seoul, Friday. Korea Times photo by Seo Jae-hoon|
Marking the second anniversary of the Moon Jae-in administration, The Korea Times, jointly with the Hankook Ilbo, interviewed Cabinet ministers to review his government's policies on tackling corruption to create a more just society, as well as other pending issues. This is the fourth of the interviews. ― ED.
By Kang Seung-woo
The Moon Jae-in administration is sparing no efforts to root out corruption linked to public safety, the newly appointed interior minister said Friday.
"While the government is fighting corruption hard, we ― in particular ― are committed to eradicating such bad practices because of the huge impact on the people," Interior and Safety Minister Chin Young said in an interview at the Government Complex Seoul.
"The so-called usual corruption tends to damage private interests only, but corrupt activities related to safety can bring serious harm to people's lives and property. Given this, the government is seeking to root out the sources of evil in the public safety sector."
Chin cited both the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster and the 2018 Miryang hospital fire alongside parked cars blocking fire engines on the street. The minister said all these cases have to do with safety-related corruption. Rules against irregularities risking people's lives have not been properly enforced, especially those involving corrupt ties with public officials. The Sewol sinking killed 304 passengers, crewmembers and a rescue worker, while the hospital fire killed 41 people and injured 153.
In the wake of such tragedies involving corruption, the ministry and other government agencies have sought countermeasures.
"The Anti-Corruption Policy Consultative Council was established under the President in September 2017, and central and local governments set up a pan-government system monitoring safety-linked corrupt activities last October ― a body presided over by the vice minister for disaster and safety management," Chin said.
He added that the efforts have been paying dividends.
"So far, over 3,000 corruption cases have been detected, and the ministry has revised 22 out of 53 relevant ordinances in a bid to terminate corrupt practices," he said.
Fight against drugs
In the aftermath of a nation-rocking drug and rape scandal surrounding Burning Sun, a nightclub in southern Seoul, police have been cracking down on drug-related crimes since Feb. 25. The case has drawn much public attention because it involved several celebrities including Seungri of K-pop boy band BIGBANG.
"I was surprised to know such a large number of people take narcotics in such a central part of Seoul, so the National Police Agency has launched a massive clampdown on drug-linked crimes, investigating more than 2,000 people and imprisoning 669 of them," Chin said.
During the crackdown, the police caught several high-profile celebrities, including singer and actor Park Yu-chun and naturalized TV personality Robert Holley, as well as chaebol scions such as the Namyang Dairy Products founder's granddaughter Hwang Ha-na, and grandsons of SK Group founder Chey Jong-gun and Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung.
"In the future, we will intensively crack down on celebrities and the privileged, who have been off the radar, in order to prevent them from repeating drug crimes," he said.
Autonomous police plan
The government plans to introduce an autonomous police system in five jurisdictions and regions within this year, in line with a campaign pledge by President Moon.
Under the plan, 43,000 police officers from the national police organization will be transferred to local police bodies, where they will assume duties related to traffic law enforcement and sex crimes, as well as school and domestic violence. The current national police body will be in charge of crimes pertinent to security, intelligence, foreign affairs, counterterrorism, murder and other national issues. The police forces will be under the direct control of local governments.
Chin said the new system will help provide more effective and improved police services.
"As the autonomous police will be controlled by local government heads, they will be able to focus more on local issues in cooperation with officials from local governments," he said.
Chin cited as an example school violence, in which many cases have been neglected because the national police have little interest in the issue. However, when the municipal police system starts, officers can cooperate with local governments, schools and relevant organizations to aggressively deal with it.
"Local government heads have no choice but to pay attention to those issues because they are the concerns of their constituents. They can more easily instruct the municipal police to settle problems, eventually leading people to acknowledge upgraded public safety and advanced police services," he said.
As to the criticism that police may lose political neutrality as they are to be placed under the direct control of local governments, the minister said, "A separate administrative police committee, comprised of representatives from the government, police and rival parties, will keep the system in check, while the national police organization will also closely monitor it."
He added, "Nevertheless, if neutrality is not kept, people will judge local government heads through elections."