[INSIGHT]Cronyism Corrodes All That It Touches

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[INSIGHT]Cronyism Corrodes All That It Touches

We are currently witnessing the flourishing of all facets of social ties in our society, which can be compared with the cross section of a water melon, thanks to the so-called Lee Yong-ho scandal.

As if a scenario of this scandal were written in advance, all kinds of social relationships are appearing on stage and such ties are interwoven throughout various links.

Mr. Lee searched for influential figures from his home province to gain influence. He mobilized his alumni to introduce him to influential figures. Then he took advantage of blood ties to seek such connections. Then he glued those ties together into a common interest group by offering material benefits like drinks, golf excursions and jobs.

These social ties from cronyism or region-based connections are not a new phenomenon. Past authoritarian regimes paid allegiance to these very region-based connections.

Those who called themselves victims under the authoritarian regimes and later urged people to cleanse themselves of such regionalism established the Kim Dae-jung administration. But I feel disappointed and sorrowful to see corrupt cronyism rampage more boldly and broadly under the very people who vowed to stamp it out.

Politicians from the Cholla provinces who have fought for democracy against authoritarianism will be embarrassed at the possibility that their struggle for democracy may be evaluated as just an effort to snatch power from politicians who hail from the Kyongsang provinces and claim their own share of pie.

For the last three and a half years the current administration has failed to wipe out regionalism and cronyism, contrary to people's expectations. No matter who is sworn in as president or from where, cronyism grounded on region-based connections repeats its ugly reality.

Actually, we cannot blame a certain person. In our social climate, one who has many personal connections can outdo one who has ability alone.

People may value more a person who went to jail instead of revealing secrets about his seniors than a person who abides by laws. Alumni gatherings and meetings of people from the same region are unusually frequent.

When social ties are combined with a low-level of morality, cronyism, whereby each group looks out for its own interests, will be repeated no matter how many times administrations change, as we witnessed in the Lee Yong-ho scandal.

Cronyism is one reason election campaigns have become depraved, a life and death struggle, like a war. Winners of elections take all and losers lose everything when cronyism prevails in society.

People sneering at politics say the presidential post is the biggest source of graft and positions based on selfish interest and a presidential election is a battle over the right to graft, even though politicians may polish the elections with rosy remarks. Reflecting on our political history, it is hard to refute this assertion.

If we want to prevent corrupt politics from repeating itself, we should not just sit down and deplore the shameful scandals. We should all stand up and weed out regionalism that is the basis of cronyism. If we do so, the ruling and opposition camps together can meet the coming elections scheduled for next year with composure.

In terms of economics, cronyism thrives in the soil of monopoly, the absence of competition and preferential treatment. There is no room for cronyism in international tenders and transactions in which businesses compete openly on price, technology and credit.

Unfortunately, prosecutors have been implicated without fail in almost every scandal exposed in the past administrations. The reason can be found in the fact that the prosecution is a non-competitive, exclusive and closed organization and functions as an indictment monopoly, indictment at its discretion, a closed personnel management system and a top-down order system.

There is a reason why cronyism is rampant in our political arena. The vested politicians enjoy their monopolistic prestige by setting a high barrier that blocks newcomers from entering the political arena. In addition, the organizations and operations of the political parties are strictly unilateral monopolies.

Recently, the Seoul Metropolitan Government made public how it has carried out various civil petitions on its Web site and succeeded in getting rid of complaints from citizens and corruption. This success is a hint at how to eradicate cronyism.

Politics, administration, law enforcement agencies and courts should all change their organization and management into competitive, open and pluralistic operations. This is the way to uproot cronyism.


The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yu Seung-sam

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