[FOUNTAIN] The Smell of Money Is Strong

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[FOUNTAIN] The Smell of Money Is Strong

There is a saying that "one doesn't understand the perks of serving as a minister in Korea unless one actually experiences it." Maybe that is why so many stories about behind-the-scenes fighting to win posts fly around whenever a cabinet reshuffle takes place. Indeed, the antique expression "smell of money" relates to the acquisition of government positions for personal privilege through corrupt means.

In the late Han dynasty in China, the "trafficking" in official posts was widespread, particularly under the rule of Emperor Ling. There was a man who had nothing but money, the story goes, and he paid a large amount of money to buy a high government post. The man became extremely arrogant after the appointment. He then became aware that people around him were behaving strangely toward him. He asked his son, "Tell me what people think of me from your perspective." "They say you smell of money," said his son. The "smell of money" has became an expression used to brand those who appear to have "bought" government posts.

Huang Tsung-his, a famous scholar of Ming-Ching China, wrote "Ming-i Tai-fang Lu" (Waiting for the Dawn: A Plan for the Prince), which discusses the grand laws of politics. He argues that drastic and extraordinary reform measures should be taken in the political circles of his time, leading the government at one time to ban the book. He devoted a full chapter of the book to discussion of the duties of government officials. He argued, "A liege man [follower of the king and member of government] should not see what is not visible and should not listen to what is soundless when supporting the ruler." This means that, unlike court ladies and court eunuchs, a true government servant never tries to divine the unexpressed desires and preferences of the ruler. This can be interpreted to mean that those in government posts should serve the people, not the ruler.

Abilities and qualifications have always been put forward as the criteria by which personnel are selected for cabinet posts. The government reportedly said it considered the attitude toward reform in the recent shake-up and tried to balance regional affiliations and generational differences in allocating posts. Although the differences in political spectrum and policy directions have been made all too evident over the past months, politicians apparently have mellowed, agreeing to board the same ship, and ministerial posts were given in return. How many can view the apparent political bargain without suspicion? This "give and take" must be tinged with the smell of money.

It would be fortunate if the new ministers were true liege men, sincerely working for the people, not eunuch or court ladies obsessed with serving the monarch, reading the mind of the president.

by Bae Myong-bok

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