[VIEWPOINT]It's not what, but whom, you know

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[VIEWPOINT]It's not what, but whom, you know

The entire picture of bribery and political connections began to appear in the center of the so-called "Chin Seung-hyun-gate." Reinvestigation of the incident revealed that political lobbyists played an important role in the alleged bribery. Korean society is again stumbling into an endless downward spiral. Though it had been expected, there is a sign of disaster. The ethics of politicians, which are already seen as seriously damaged, are again being scrutinized.

Who are these political lobbyists? They are the ones who profit from connecting political powers to people who are willing to offer bribes. They are brokers who provide political connections in return for money.

Thus, their actions can never be appropriate. The lobbyists are known as "Yeouido Brokers." They are considered the very people who start the chain of corruptions in Korean society by buying influence with those in political power. Since they are not identified, what they do cannot be transparent.

Generally, the lobbyists are longtime supporters of political parties, and their titles are usually something like nonstanding deputy vice chairman of special committees. They are splendidly rewarded for helping political parties come into power. Though they do not have enough specialized ability to make deals, their acquaintance with political leaders is sufficient to provide the agency to set up indecent arrangements.

Why is the domain of political lobbyists so broad? In a political structure where it costs a fortune to become a politician and a society where connections mean everything, political operatives take on extra importance. Recently, in alleged collusion with organized crime, the domain of their activities has expanded greatly. By contrast, the systems in place to prevent corrupt dealing are extremely primitive. Korean society can be seen as a world of almighty political lobbyists.

In any society morality may deteriorate. But the presence of a system that prevents and punishes such a deterioration of morality is what separates advanced from underdeveloped societies in this global age. Our supervision of moral deterioration has been extremely primitive, and this is the time to consider adopting new systems that can match world standards.

"Be transparent and clean in order not to be corrupted," is the purpose of the American lobbying law. The law publicly legalizes lobbyists and at the same time increases transparency and requires responsibility.

In the National Assembly is a legislative proposal that would require disclosure of lobbying activities on behalf of foreign interests. Civic groups such as the People's Solidarity for Partici-patory Democracy also advocate laws to regulate lobbyists' activities.

The purpose is to prevent political corruption and bribery and to ensure that policy-making procedures are based on principle and consideration of alternatives.

In Korea, lobbying is associated with political corruption. Considering the large influence of alumni, regional and family ties in our society, the role lobbyists can play is worrying. Though we are about to establish laws on lobbying, the law should not reflect only the interests of powerful elites. A social system needs to be established to reflect the interests of the weak, who cannot actively participate in lobbying activities.

The political lobbying involved in the Chin Seung-hyun-gate scandal is nothing but indecent, having nothing to do with policy-making or legislative activities. I am not proposing to establish a lobbyist law to wrap up recent scandals of corruption cases involving politicians. But it is urgent to set up measures to prevent corruption resulting from underground lobbying activities. Then, significant change will occur in lobbying activities that have taken the form of unlawful under-the-table dealing around politics and administrations.

The National Commission for Rebuilding Korea is promoting "Clean Korea 21" as a slogan to eliminate political corruption, but in other corridors of political power, it is a completely different world. Hearing about the "gates" and political lobbyists, a nation that appears to keep silent is questioning whether this country is the place where they want to take root and live.

In any society, if the rich and powerful break rules and become corrupted, that is the end of the society.


The writer is a professor of sociology at Korea University.

by Park Gil-sung

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