[EDITORIALS]Rot in the grass roots

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[EDITORIALS]Rot in the grass roots

The nation is consumed by scandals involving the president's sons, and now mayors of major cities and provincial governors are being prosecuted in tandem. Five of Korea's 16 governors and mayors of special cities have been either arrested or are awaiting trial. Now we have to ask whether local autonomy itself is a seedbed for corruption and wrongdoing. The arrests will make it harder to prepare for the World Cup and shames us with international disgrace.

The prosecution asked for detention warrants against Moon Hi-gab, the mayor of Daegu, and Incheon's mayor, Choi Ki-sun. It is unprecedented for two mayors to be charged with bribery in a single day. Ulsan Mayor Shim Wan-gu is waiting for the prosecution to call him for investigation. He is suspected of taking 300 million won ($230,000) from a construction company. In March, North Jeolla Governor You Jong-keun was sent to jail. The Supreme Court returned the case of Gyeonggi Governor Lim Chang-yuel to the lower court that earlier found him not guilty.

Some 49 heads of local governments have either been found guilty of various offenses or are waiting for trial. That is a substantial increase from the last election cycle, when 23 local government heads were prosecuted.

The problem is caused by a poor election system, an illogical division of power between the central and local governments and holes in the audit system. Local politicians are easily tempted by dirty money because they need huge sums for election campaigns. Once they accept money, they have to provide licensing or appointment favors. Half of the local leaders being prosecuted face bribery charges.

Personnel and budgeting should be local activities, but they are in Seoul's hands. But city planning, which needs some sort of national coordination, is a local function. Local legislatures and civic groups are not yet sophisticated enough to rein in the local governments' corruption and mismanagement.

Local elections will be held in June. Our rotting grass-roots democracy needs more scrutiny not only of policies, but of ethics as well.

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