[EDITORIALS]Local officials running wild

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[EDITORIALS]Local officials running wild

Seeing the allegations against the former mayor of Ansan, Park Sung-kyu, who is under indictment, makes one wonder how corrupt and decadent a public official can become. The charges that Mr. Park used insider information acquired during his term in office to speculate in real estate is especially shocking in that it shows the serious level of the moral hazard of public officials.

Leaving the governance of Ansan to the former mayor, whose term ended in June, was like letting the cat guard the fish shop. Having proposed to the central government that development limits on certain "greenbelts" be relaxed, Mr. Park used this classified information to buy nearly half, or 396,000 square meters, of the areas in question.

Mr. Park profited four-fold from selling the land he bought in the first of two purchases. He then made the other purchase under his nephew's name to hide his identity. Had Mr. Park been able to sell the second purchase of land, he would have pocketed at least 30 billion won ($24 million).

Mr. Park also faces charges of having received 500 million won from a construction firm in return for letting it build market-priced apartments on land set aside for the construction of low-cost rental housing. This deed is particularly deplorable not only because a bribe was paid, but even worse he drove poor people into the street, betraying the trust that voters had given him.

Mr. Park, who lost his post in the June local elections, claimed he committed these acts to rake in money for his next election bid. Politicians are engaged in a vicious circle. Elected by spending lavishly, they spend their time in office engaging in corruption and other illegal acts to get the money back.

One out of five local heads of government elected four years ago has been involved in bribery. For local autonomy to be established, we need to fortify public oversight of local elections and provide means to check the tyranny of the heads of the government offices. To bring about such reform, the political community should support the recall system for public officials that was discussed in the National Assembly.
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