Pursuing Window-Dressed Reforms for a Bigger Piece of the PieThe opposition party recently produced data testifying to an excessive concentration of people from the southwestern Honam region in government positions, and said that those from either the ruling party or Honam currently head or occupy high positions in 55 government organizations and state-run enterprises. The ruling party immediately countered the charges with data showing that 40 percent of high-ranking government officials are from the southeastern Yongnam region.
The belief that government appointments have become even more biased lately is spreading. Many voices are questioning the increasingly partial government appointments. Some members of even the ruling party are reportedly saying that it would be impossible for a Honam politician to ascend to power again. But then, such pessimism is said to be aggravating the current situation. The Honam people believe that now is the only chance they are ever likely to have, spurring them to go to extremes to grab a slice of the pie during the remaining period of current administration.
Such highhanded appointments are causing influential individuals to use the power of government for private purposes. They are also producing self-destructive outcomes that stand in the way of the reforms the government is trying to enforce. One case in point is the boastful insistence of a ruling party official that he will prevent the prosecution from carrying out any investigations into the organization he was appointed to head. This demonstrates that personal relationships established through regional or party connections can be used to prevent public acts, such as restructuring or corruption investigations.
Based on such a perspective, it is no wonder then that the restructurings of public organizations, financial institutions and conglomerates remain so sluggish. Let's look at the Daewoo Motor case, which now poses the greatest challenge for the Korean economy. The public had long been aware of the rumors that Daewoo's accounting practices were so irregular that no one could figure out the true extent of Daewoo's debts. It just doesn't make sense that only the government and financial authorities had been in the dark about Daewoo's fabricated financial statements.
Could the politicians, after they assume the leadership of an organization, actually be impeding the reforms they once called for, citing reform fatigue syndrome as an excuse? If so, the reforms can only remain facades that are reforms in name only.
The greatest problem is that distributing the pie to the people from one certain region is distorting government power by intertwining it with personal connections. The recent Hanvit bank loan scandal and a former cabinet minister's alleged exertion of pressure on a financial executive for a loan guarantee are stark examples of the private use of government power.
We all believe that the government is facing an extremely serious situation. People are beginning to question whether the administration is an honest one. It is difficult for government departments to perform properly when there are widespread suspicions of government officials covering up corruption and varnishing public sentiment. It should be remembered, however, that truth grows underground when it is covered up.
The government has to restore its public functions if it is to pursue genuine reforms. To that end, it has to take measures that can restore public confidence in government power, even if it means appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the allegations of corruption by government officials.
by Kim Young-bae