[VIEWPOINT]Sunshine needed in arms buyingThere are now suspicions of corruption in the procurement of telecommunications equipment for the Defense Ministry. Some media and the opposition Grand National Party have claimed that the ministry procured 439 billion won ($335 million) worth of walkie-talkies that had been judged unfit for combat use, and that bribery was behind the decision to buy those radios. The ministry, however, says the procurement was managed "by the book," and that there are no problems with the equipment.
The Kim Dae-jung administration has twice made reforms in the military procurement system. Mr. Kim's first defense minister, Chun Yong-taek, took steps to make procurement decisions more transparent. Cho Seung-tae, the second defense minister in this administration, took additional steps to set up a system of competitive bids for defense supply and to develop a cadre of well-trained, professional procurement officers. Mr. Cho also declassified many aspects of the procurement system in order to make it more open. It is unfortunate that, despite those reforms, there is still a whiff of corruption in the air.
The government is scheduled to decide soon on several major purchases. They include new fighter aircraft worth 4.2 trillion won, a new anti-aircraft missile system worth 2.4 trillion won, and a 2.1 trillion won attack helicopter project. Before those decisions are made, the government should closely examine the walkie-talkie issue and clear up doubts in the public's mind about the integrity of the defense procurement system. If it does not, the recent suspicions will lead to more distrust of how our tax money is being spent.
How can corruption in defense supply practices be stamped out? First of all, the government should adhere to its principles and follow its own rules. The military procurement management rules of the Defense Ministry, if followed, can guarantee that munitions are efficiently purchased, add to our national strength and promote domestic production capabilities. In the walkie-talkie case, it may have been that the government overemphasized the principle of procuring equipment at the lowest possible cost without giving enough weight to efficiency and operational effectiveness.
In addition, the government should reinforce the principles of transparency and competition in carrying out military procurement projects. We should admit that the military procurement projects are different from common state-run projects, as those projects need secrecy for security. But the secrecy for national security should not provide chances for corruption.
This case of suspected corrupt weapons procurement should make us think about several important measures to prevent such things from happening again. The government should open all procedures surrounding bids for military procurement to all interested companies from the start of the project, in order to allay concerns about the fairness of the process. The names of officials who participate in the decision on the winner of a military procurement project should be disclosed so that they can be called to account if there are problems arising from their decision. The government should also revise and supplement the military procurement management rules to systemize measures to fix responsibility for decisions more rigorously and to increase penalties for bad decisions. Special attention should be given to rigorous oversight of the entire procurement cycle.
The roles of the National Assembly and civic groups are also important. Under the National Assembly's National Defense Committee is a subcommittee for the reform of the national defense system. The National Assembly should increase the power of that subcommittee and instruct it to come up with measures to make military procurement more open and publicized. In addition, the media, research institutes and civic groups should actively participate in the defense procurement process. Their participation in decision-making, their research and their discussion will prevent political intervention in military procurement projects. Through such steps, we can make military procurement very transparent and do away with suspicions that the system is fertile ground for corruption.
The writer is a professor of political science at Yonsei University.
by Moon Chung-in