[OUTLOOK]How to Rid Politics of Corruption

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[OUTLOOK]How to Rid Politics of Corruption

The controversy among politicians over a bill to stop money laundering is heating up. This bill was introduced initially in an effort to prevent the ill effects of the second stage of foreign currency liberalization. At issue was the clause that put political funds under scrutiny in order to cut off corruption. The opposition party is very much opposed to the bill. The ruling party appears to be trying to pass the bill but very reluctantly.

Since the bill against money laundering is supported by the majority of the people enthusiastically as legislation that will help root out corruption, direct opposition to the bill would weaken popular confidence in any political party. In particular, this is more so for the opposition, which have to rely on morality more than the ruling party. Nevertheless why is the opposition party bluntly against the bill, endangering its image and moral integrity.

Discretion in interpreting and executing laws can be controlled by "checks and balances" between the executive and the legislative branches in a democratic society where the separation of powers is well established. However, in a society with an immature democracy, like South Korea, everything eventually depends on the group in power.

Having fully enjoyed the privilege of power as the ruling party in the past, the Grand National Party is aware of this fact. It can be considered the originator of the self-righteous exercise of laws In South Korea. By the same token the ruling Millennium Democratic Party is a flawless follower of such practice.

The party has completely changed its stance on the regulations governing newspapers as it moved from opposition to ruling party status. That demonstrates how faithfully the MDP is following the old practices of self-righteousness in implementing the law.

The Grand National Party's worry that the bill, once passed, would play a bigger role in controlling the opposition party's political fund and the extent of control would be bigger than what the civic organizations envisioned is understandable. The ruling party also cannot give full support to the bill. First of all, there is no guarantee that it will win the next presidential election in view of low public support they gain now. So party members cannot help but be concerned that the bill would become a shackle that restrains them if they lose the next election.

If so, are there no options to prevent corruption? The most basic option to prevent wrongdoing and corruption is to make the executive and the judiciary branches of the government independent from political influence. In order to make both branches of the government free from political influence, we should start with limiting the power of the president over personnel appointments.

As in the development processes of democracy in the party politics in most other countries, the first barrier to ruling party wrongdoing and corruption is limiting the right of appointment by the president for posts at the executive and the judicial branches of government.

The ruling Millennium Democratic Party was strongly supportive of limiting presidential power to appoint people to positions at the executive and the judiciary branches while it was in opposition. However, as soon as they won the presidential election, they turned to an ardent guardian of presidential rights.

It has long been a practice that officials above vice minister in either the executive or the judiciary should submit their resignation once power changes hands. It would bring about worse revenge if they do not submit the resignations citing the clause in laws, guaranteeing their status.

The term of office means that officials have to be faithful to death to complete their terms. It has yet to be understood that the president should guarantee the terms no matter what, which is the normal interpretation of the law.

Under these circumstances, there can be no senior officials who would not listen to the president. If that is the case, only in dreams we can expect officials below the senior officials to disobey the words from the ruling party for the people.

In this Korean political culture, if a bill against money laundering is executed by the prosecution and a task force in charge of tracking down financial information, such organizations under president's thumb, it can be interpreted as no more than a scheme to snare the opposition party. The bill can also be a bone in the throat of the ruling party. It is very important for civic organization to use their influence to pass the bills for prevention of wrongdoing and corruption.

However, I think what they should do first is setting the executive and the judiciary independent from the control of the president.

There are some worrying voices that the executive and the judiciary would become self-righteous once they are given independence from the president. However, in such cases the legislative body will not sit idle looking on. Thus, the checks and balances among them and the separation of powers are natural relations, assuring a mature democracy.


The writer is a professor of public administration at ChungAng University.

by Cho Sung-han

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