[EDITORIALS]It’s plain stealingA lawmaker recently made public Board of Audit and Inspection documents that showed fraudulent activities by officials at the Foreign Ministry headquarters here and by diplomats at Korea’s foreign missions overseas in 2001. They included claiming expenses for private spending, overlooking illegal visa issuances and improperly cashing in overseas allowances for diplomatic spouses. Some of the ambassadors cited by the audit board systematically embezzled official funds by claiming expenses for luncheons and banquets that did not take place. A consul general overlooked the issuance of an entry visa to a lawbreaker who had the record of drinking and driving. Several ambassadors claimed spousal allowances for wives who did not accompany them to their posts.
The activities by government officials who claim to represent the country overseas are despicable. Because diplomatic posts are away from close scrutiny, diplomats are expected to conduct themselves with a high standard of responsibility and ethics while posted overseas.
Foreign Ministry officials say the activities were inevitable given the limited financial resources available at embassies and consulates. These are simply excuses and are not acceptable. Claiming and using funds that were intended for official functions and through questionable methods is clearly embezzlement and abuse of official positions.
The Foreign Ministry said it has been trying to correct such misconduct. We want to believe that that is true and that there have been improvements. The problem is that as long as officials say and believe the conduct is customary, it is difficult to expect a change. The fact that similar misappropriation of official funds is not unheard of at other government agencies shows that at the heart of the problem lies a lack of ethical perception by government officials. And as long as that perception does not change, similar conduct at our diplomatic posts overseas will persist. The Foreign Ministry cannot let such activities go on. An effective tool for the audit board would be to report such cases to the prosecution for investigation.