[EDITORIALS]More blows to public trustBribery allegations aimed at Fair Trade Commission officials have made depressing news. The prosecution is investigating a former commissioner, Lee Nam-kee, on suspicion that he received $20,000 from the SK Group when he was in office. An unidentified director is reported to have opened a bank account where multilevel marketers churned 1.4 billion won ($1.1 million) in the process of setting up an industry association.
The charges against the former commissioner have not yet been proven, but the prosecution says it has gathered considerable evidence and has banned him from going abroad. Here we have the head of the Fair Trade Commission, the business community’s equivalent of the prosecution, being investigated for bribery.
The director in question reportedly claimed that he simply provided a convenience to expedite the establishment of the business association so that ordinary consumers could be protected from unscrupulous pyramid schemes. Even if that is the truth, it is still a problem when a government official helps circumvent the real-name financial accounts law and helps a business group get organized.
The commission has to protect and enforce fair trade and an orderly market. It also has to judge whether companies are abiding by the rules and standards it sets up. If necessary, it has to discipline companies or refer them to the prosecution. In particular, the commission has recently wielded formidable power in reforming conglomerates. Officials of the commission are, therefore, asked to live up to high standards of ethics and neutrality. We are disappointed at the stories of bribes. Are our officials as disciplined as they should be?
Of course two allegations of bribery should not taint the entire commission, but it does call its trustworthiness into question, and it has already been tainted because it allowed itself to be used by politicians of the ruling party in the last administration.
If the commission wants more powers, such as the ability to search bank records with no time limits, it will have to work hard to restore confidence in its integrity.