Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon (Yonhap)
Yoon Suk-yeol administration’s first interpellation began on Monday afternoon at the National Assembly, with the ruling and opposition parties clashing over multiple pending issues ranging from the economy to national security.
Pending issues, such as the launch of a new “police bureau” under the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, the repatriation of North Korean fishermen and Yoon’s controversial personnel appointments were put on the table.
The first part of the parliamentary interpellation session was on politics, diplomacy, unification and security. It is followed by economics on Tuesday and education, society and culture on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and ministers in relevant ministries were present at the session. There were also a total of 11 lawmakers including Yoon Sang-hyun and Ha Tae-kyung from the ruling People Power Party and Park Bum-gye and Park Joo-min from the opposition Democratic Party of Korea asking questions.
Park Beom-kye, former justice minister and a member of the Democratic Party, was the first one to ask questions. He clashed with Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon over a newly launched personnel vetting unit within the ministry.
Park attacked Han, claiming that it was illegal for the government to revise the Justice Ministry system such that the unit was under the direct control of the justice minister.
When Rep. Park asked whether there is a provision in the Government Organization Act that includes the Justice Ministry’s personnel affairs, Han replied that personnel vetting work is not new. It is what Cheong Wa Dae’s senior presidential secretary for civil affairs did in the past, Han said. “It was judged by the Ministry of Government Legislation that there is no legal problem,” Han said.
Park also asked, “Why should the minister of justice vet the justice of the Supreme Court, the constitutional judge, the prime minister, the presidential chief of staff and senior secretaries?” Han replied his job is to provide objective primary verification without judgment. “We are not conducting personnel verification for the Supreme Court justice,” he added.
Ruling party lawmakers asked about problems related to the repatriation process of North Korean defectors. They also brought up the shooting of a South Korean civil servant in the West Sea by North Korean soldiers under the previous Moon Jae-in administration in 2020.
When Park and Han engaged in a war of words, lawmakers continued to shout and applaud. The Speaker of the National Assembly Kim Jin-pyo told them to refrain from applauding.
In a change of tone, Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun of the People Power Party asked fellow party member and Unification Minister Kwon Young-se whether there had been cases of forced repatriation over the past five years under the Moon administration. Yoon’s questions were meant to highlight and criticize the previous administration’s handling of key inter-Korean cases.
Yoon brought up the Moon administration’s repatriation of two North Korean fishermen in 2019 as an example of forced and unjust repatriation.
Minister Kwon said, “It is the only case I know of in which (North Korean defectors) were forcibly repatriated against their will.”
Kwon added that the government’s decision to repatriate the North Korean fishermen at the time was “clearly wrong,” and “a very wrong decision that undermined basic constitutional regulations and constitutional values.”
The Democratic Party targeted controversial personnel appointments in the presidential office and ministerial posts, including the hiring of Yoon’s personal acquaintances and the dominance of former prosecutors.
“(President Yoon) presented ‘fairness and common sense’ as a catchphrase when he was a presidential candidate. But he went the other way around,” Rep. Park said.
In response, Prime Minister Han said the government took special measures in hiring those who perform specific tasks to ensure objectivity.
Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min faced a grilling over the launch of a new police bureau.
Over the weekend, the ruling and opposition parties clashed over the new bureau’s launch, with the nation’s police chiefs holding a meeting on Saturday opposing it. After the meeting, superintendent Ryu Sam-yeong, who led the discussion, was ordered to go on stand-by. Other police chiefs are also being investigated by the National Police Agency.
The opposition Democratic Party strongly criticized the National Police Agency for giving a “(former dictator) Chun Doo-hwan-style warning” over the punishment and inspection of the police chiefs. The ruling People Power Party defended the punishment, saying the launch of the police bureau was for the purpose of “fixing irregularities.”
Interior Minister Lee Sang-min declined to comment on the punishment on Ryu, saying it is not within his domain of duties.
By Shin Ji-hye (email@example.com