[VIEWPOINT]The roots of corruption run deep

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[VIEWPOINT]The roots of corruption run deep

What are some of the major issues that should be considered in the upcoming presidential election? I probably would not be the only one to reply without a second thought that the two most important are relations with North Korea and political corruption. The issue of corruption has influenced the results of the Aug. 8 by-elections and June's provincial and local elections, an omen of the effect it will have on the December election. The emergence of corruption as an issue has probably been the cause of the intensified political mudslinging lately, as political parties and individual politicians try to dig up corruption charges to use against their opponents. After being force-fed this unappetizing diet every day, the public has probably formed its own opinions about who is how corrupt and who is the bigger liar. They can only hope that the truth will be revealed sometime soon.

Of course corruption is an important subject, and the issue should be aired thoroughly. The eradication of corruption is not only of the highest priority on the list of social tasks to speed our national development, but is also what the rest of the world demands. We must stamp out corruption not only for social justice, but also to lead better lives. But corruption accusations have become little more than a blunt instrument that politicians can swing at each other; there is no sign yet that eliminating it is becoming a national task. An anti-corruption law has been en-acted after many twists and turns, but we will have to wait and see how effective it is. Implementing the new law is more difficult than enacting it. The Korea Indepen-dent Commission Against Cor-ruption has been established, but it has no investigative authority, and it is difficult to see how it can ever be effective.

The quickest and surest way to root out corruption is to remove its roots. There are two factors that cause corruption: One is a structural, organizational problem. For instance, the amount of election campaign money candidates need depends on the structure of our elections. Not long ago, the National Election Commission presented a scheme for improving the election structure; it called for the elimination of open-air meetings and recommended the use of mass media in campaigns. The government would be responsible for paying media campaign expenses. If this proposal is enacted, it will definitely reduce corruption. So where is the lively discussion about this proposal? I have heard none.

Another factor in corruption is culture. Corruption is fostered in a Confucianism-ridden country such as Korea, where people are inclined to flock together. Personal connections such as alumni ties, regionalism or blood and marriage relationships are a hotbed for corruption. In such a culture, as is often said, "the antonym of justice is loyalty, not injustice." It takes a long time to change the roots of these cultural factors, and it is not clear whether the law enforcement authorities such as the prosecution and the courts are willing to take a leading role.

Another device to prevent corruption is to set harsh penalties. Just as attacking the causes of corruption reduces the opportunity to become corrupt, penalties impose a cost on corrupt acts. Penalties for corruption were not effective in the past because they were not enforced properly.

The rates of prosecution for taking bribes and other offenses committed by civil servants are quite low compared to the rates for general crimes. The rates of prison terms imposed for such crimes is even lower. Those convicted of bribery by trial courts recently received suspended sentences in 53 percent of the cases, suspended execution of sentences in 6 percent of the cases, and fines in 24 percent of the cases. Overall, 83 percent of those prosecuted were freed after trial, which is proof that the penalties are too weak. Also, in many cases, special pardons are granted, which will hinder prevention of corruption through punishment.

Singapore has succeeded in preventing corruption because of effective penalties, but more important is the political will of its leaders to root out corruption and set a good example.

Dasan Jeong Yag-yong (1762-1836), a Korean realist scholar, wrote, "Integrity is strength, and one with a dream will by all means keep his integrity." We should elect "one with a dream" in order to eradicate corruption.


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The writer is a professor of law at Hanyang University.

by Yang Kun

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