[EDITORIALS]Polluted headwatersThe competitiveness of a nation is shown by a sound economy; corruption is a poisonous mushroom that hinders economic development. The implication of senior government officials in corruption charges is deplorable. Nothing is more illustrative of rampant corruption than these scandals.
Yesterday, the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office arrested former Chairman Lee Yong-keun of the Financial Supervisory Commission on charges of having received about 40 million won ($33,000) from Nara Merchant Bank when he was the deputy head of the agency. Lee Nam-ki, the former chairman of the Fair Trade Commission, was arrested on charges of forcing SK Group to make a 1-billion-won donation to a Buddhist temple. At the National Tax Service, the situation is even worse. A former deputy chief, Lee Suk-hee, is on trial for funneling political funds through the agency during the 1997 presidential election; Kim Seong-ho, a former head of the Seoul branch tax office, is on trial on bribery charges and Ahn Jung-nam, a former agency head, long ago fled the country.
The head of the Fair Trade Commission and the heads of the National Tax Service and the Financial Supervisory Commission form a powerful triumvirate. During President Kim Dae-jung’s administration, the three men spearheaded economic reform, but they also accepted kickbacks, showing that Mr. Kim’s vaunted reforms were a hollow slogan. In particular, the repeated revelations of corruption by senior tax officials show us that the stream’s upper reaches should be cleaned up.
It is embarrassing that South Korea’s national corruption index is the highest among Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation member nations. Perhaps it is hard to remain clean in a country where people hand over cash unsolicited. But the higher the office, the stricter the ethics of its holder should be.
The real problem is whether we are capable of change. Will the incumbents of those offices be in jail five years from now? There is no hope unless attitudes change. A dirty upper stream of a river pollutes everything downstream.