[INSIGHT]World Cup should not distractKoreans must cooperate to make the World Cup a success. However, we should take care not to let our World Cup excitement blind us to our basic duties.
For the last few months, the biggest issue in Korea has been corruption. Several bribery cases, including those involving the president's family, are being investigated. Links to corruption have been uncovered at several important government agencies and several influential people have been arrested for their alleged roles in illegal activities.
Despite the outrage at what has been learned, our society has yet to show any signs of adopting comprehensive anti-corruption measures or starting serious debate on how to prevent a recurrence. And the prosecutors have even announced that the investigation will be postponed until after the World Cup. How can the public watch this happen and do nothing?
Corruption takes hold of our nation whenever an election comes up. Whether the vote is for party representatives, the National Assembly or for president, an election in Korea brings illegal activities. Someone once estimated that 70 percent of candidates for office would eventually break the law. Corruption-breeding elections have continued without any reform or even calls for reform.
The local election season has started. Each candidate's election campaign will probably cost billions of won. How can an honest man or woman get such a large sum of money? According to rumors, a considerable amount of money was used in the presidential primaries, with the candidates "reaping what they sowed in money." No one knows how much was spent and how the candidates got the money.
Kim Keun-tae, a legislator who dropped out of the Millennium Democratic Party's primaries, is to be charged for accepting 20 million won ($16,000) in illegal political contributions, but those who must have received 10 times as much are safe in their silence and denial.
Members of the National Assembly's Culture and Tourism Committee did nothing illegal in accepting political contributions from Tiger Pools, the troubled company that was chosen to run the national lottery. However, we seem to deem any donation, regardless of whether it came from thieves or crooks, as legal as long as a receipt can be produced. How can we have a clean and transparent election when the donations are murky?
Rumors of corruption seem the natural state of things. So-and-so had to pay so much to get that construction work or commission. That start-up business, which has seen such rapid growth in the last four years, has so-and-so behind it. Korea has always had "election side-effects" and a vicious circle of corruption. All these rumors have become regular topics over dinner. Leaving things the way they are would obviate any progress on cleaning up society. After the elections there would be accusations and rumors of illegal campaign activities. If the public believes the winners of the elections are those who spent the most money, legal or illegal, who would respect the winners and their public post?
To put an end to this situation, we need firm policy and action. The two presidential candidates, Lee Hoi-chang and Roh Moo-hyun, have both vowed to practice clean politics and conduct political reform. However, neither has shown any specific signs on the direction they would take to end corruption.
The ruling Millennium Democratic Party's leaders held a workshop recently. At that workshop, someone said that the party had never been in a more shameful situation. Whoever spoke those words spoke correctly. It is a shameful, shameful situation. And something needs to be done about it quick.
The first thing that must be done is to end the corruption. Without further delay, we must finish uncovering the truth about past corruption and punish those found guilty. Public investigations should be conducted whatever the situation. They should not be set aside during the World Cup. If necessary, a special counsel consisting of prosecutors selected from all over the country should be formed to speed up the investigations.
The parties found to have been involved in corruption should take moral and political responsibility. They should apologize to the public and the leaders responsible should resign.
The government should take anti-corruption measures for the future. It should conduct discussions on campaign financing, the transparency of the election process and guarantees on the prosecutors' political neutrality. The fact that the people's attention is on the World Cup could even make this the most appropriate time to take care of this business.
The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok