Choi Sang-yeon The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
This is the story of when Steve Jobs’ pancreatic cancer spread to his liver. In January 2009, his name was far down on California’s waiting list for liver transplants, and America did not allow anyone — no matter how rich or powerful — to legally cut the line. This is because all data on organ donations is accessible online and constantly monitored. Jobs had to wait for an estimated six months to find a donor, but doctors said his liver would stop functioning by April.
The only option was to put his name up on lists in other states. An individual is legally allowed to register on lists in up to two states at once, but there were two conditions attached. First, he had to be able to arrive at the hospital where the organ was available, within eight hours, and second, doctors in that particular state had to sign off on the transplant. Jobs was able to meet the requirements thanks to his private jet, but he had a close call.
In March 2009, Jobs was able to receive a liver donation from a youth in his 20s who died in a traffic accident. Jobs later recalled in his autobiography that he would have died had he waited longer.
A society where “opportunities are equal, the process is fair and results are just” promised by President Moon Jae-in in his inaugural speech in 2017 probably looked something like this. Of course, there are some in America who complain the rich have the privilege of owning private planes. But such privileges may still be acceptable as long as the elite do not cheat. President Moon promised a “country without self-doubt and feelings of inferiority.” Is that the case now? Only a few would feel like that.
First of all, there are the cases of the three “cheaters” tapped to lead the Justice Ministry one after another. Following sullied Justice Ministers Cho Kuk and Choo Mi-ae, Justice Minister-nominee Park Beom-gye finds himself mired in several controversies involving illegal practices. The nominee rejected the opposition’s request for documents related to his past, while the ruling Democratic Party (DP) turned down most of the opposition’s requests to put witnesses on the stand.
Nevertheless, the president will appoint Park no matter what results surface at this week’s hearing. That was the case for his predecessor Choo, and her predecessor Cho. These people amongst themselves may believe they live in a just country, as they firmly believe they are champions for justice.
Of course, there was never an administration that did not have appointments of figures close to the president. But in most cases, nominees stepped down when they faced controversy in the vetting phase. However, this liberal administration habitually turns a blind eye to controversies over illegalities committed by minister nominees. Over 30 minister-level appointees have been rammed through despite strong protests by the opposition. That is largely because this administration believes it — not the people — is the master of this country.
Shockingly, it even admits this openly. Former presidential chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, has warned the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) not to “fight back against your master” when the agency embarked on looking into the Ministry of Industry’s illegitimate deletion of sensitive data on the early shutdown of the Wolseong-1 reactor after the president asked about progress in implementing his campaign promise of a nuclear phase-out.
In 2016, when Ewha Woman’s University faced controversy over its unlawful admission of the daughter of Choi Soon-sil, former President Park Geun-hye’s confidante, it revoked her enrollment even before indictments were served. But Pusan National University Medical School, which blindly admitted former Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s daughter, says it will wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling on her case before making a decision, which may take years. Thanks to the university’s reservation, Cho’s daughter could get a doctor’s license after using fake credentials confirmed by a court.
That’s not all. A DP lawmaker who enthusiastically defended Choo’s son has been tapped as culture minister even though Choo’s son was accused of receiving preferential treatment in the military. Around a third of all top positions at government institutions are believed to have come from the president’s inner circle. This number quadruples when including auditors and other executive members of public corporations.
The “just country” built by these people decides to shut down nuclear reactors without reasonable grounds, build new airports no matter the debt incurred and uses taxpayers’ money to tear down weirs built by the conservative administration. They attack the BAI for acting arrogantly, as it went against the government’s direction.
It is embarrassing enough for the people to have to ask their leaders about who truly owns this country. But the people are forced to ask this question over and over. The country that the president claimed would have equal opportunity, fair process and just results may have just been a work of fiction.