[EDITORIALS]Minister's ethical failings

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[EDITORIALS]Minister's ethical failings

The new minister of justice, Song Jeong-ho, was found to have not paid health insurance premiums for two years while in private law practice. He decided to remain a dependent of his son between June 1999, when he opened his practice, and last June. In July he took himself off his son's employer-administered health insurance plan to enroll in the regional plan for the self-employed.

The Ministry of Justice issued a statement, saying Mr. Song's law office was not subject to the National Health Insurance Act at the time he chose to be covered by his son's plan and that the two shared a residence, meeting the requirements. When the enrollment requirement for the regional plan was expanded in July to include businesses with five or fewer workers, the ministry said, Mr. Song began paying 1.2 million won ($915) each month in premiums.

Considering the practice prevalent among self-employed people at the time, Mr. Song should not be singled out and blamed for all the ills. But there is a question of ethics for a man who assumes the position as the country's top law official. First, an attorney with more than 30 million won in monthly income should not claim himself a dependent. The Ministry of Health and Welfare regulations provide that status only for those without income or unable to maintain a livelihood independently. But data released by the National Health Insurance Corp. last year show that 650,000 persons in 1998 had income but paid no health insurance premiums. That number included more than 1,300 people who earned more than 100 million won.

We need to look at the financial conditions of the health insurance plans. The employer-administered plans are in dire financial straits. Last year alone, net losses amounted to 1.8 trillion won. For the regional plan, which depends on income reported by the self-employed, only an estimated 30 percent of income is identified, requiring the government to pay for half of the fund. High-income self-employed persons freeloading on kin is unethical behavior.

Mr. Song should not be singled out for blame, but the case mirrors the kind of conduct by our leadership that would be most unwelcome. Leaders should take the lead to overcome social difficulties.
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