[FORUM]The cycle of corruption must endCollege students who graduate this year face an average competition ratio of 87 to 1 if they want to work for a major company. A father who couldn’t afford to continue paying for treatments for his daughter, who suffered from an incurable disease, had to make the painful decision to turn off her artificial respiratory system and let her pass away. In the background of the gloomy and cruel society where such things transpire looms the corrupt political structure formed by the ties between politics and business. Those in authority and their aides, others in the opposition and their subordinates and the businessmen are worse than organized crime mobs in their transactions.
The late Hyundai Asan chairman Chung Mong-hun gave 20 billion won ($17 million) in cash and an additional $30 million to Kwon Roh-kap, a close aide to former President Kim Dae-jung, and 20 billion won worth of certificates of deposit to the former culture minister, Park Jie-won, who was also a close aide of Mr. Kim. SK Group Chairman Son Kil-seung gave 10 billion won in cash to Choi Don-woong, then the chief campaign funds manager for the Grand National Party, 1.1 billion won in credit of deposit to Choi Do-sul, the former general affairs secretary of President Roh, and 2.5 billion won to Lee Sang-soo, then secretary general of the Millennium Democratic Party. The way billions of won in cash was delivered, at underground parking lots or in deserted alleys, is reminiscent of spy thrillers.
It is highly unlikely that Hyundai and SK are the only businesses that gave money to politicians, and it is just as unlikely that Mr. Kwon, Mr. Park, Mr. Lee and the two Mr. Chois are the only politicians who received bribes. A housemaid of a prominent figure in the Kim Dae-jung administration said that she had seen money stashed everywhere in her employer’s house in Seoul at the time. There is also talk of how the president-elect and his aides receive “thunderbolts of money” after the presidential election.
The parties that gave money admit to it, but most of those who allegedly received it deny it vehemently. Mr. Chung of Hyundai, in addition to secretly sending $450 million to North Korea in exchange for Pyeongyang agreeing to the North-South summit in 2000, also gave 86 billion won of company money to aides of then-President Kim Dae-jung in order to receive favorable treatment on a casino project and other projects in North Korea. These were, in short, bribes in calculation of immediate and future favors from the politicians. What other reason would businessmen have to embezzle money from their companies and give it to the politicians? The money was to win the favors of those in the highest level of government authority.
How can our politics, business and society function properly in such an environment? Young people who should be eager to start working are going around with their heads bowed low, desperate to get a job anywhere. Those at the lowest level of income are committing murder for mere pennies outside the boundaries of social security. This is all because the politicians and businessmen have been forming cartels for too long, catering to one another’s greed.
Unless we cure this damnable disease of collusion between politicians and businesses, we cannot expect any true progress in this society. President Roh Moo-hyun expressed his shock and called for a vote of confidence after a bribery allegation against his aide, Choi Do-sul, was revealed. While the president should reconsider his proposal for a vote of confidence, he should “throw [himself] on the altar of sacrifice,” as he said, with a sense of mission to break the vicious circle of corruption and bribery between politics and business.
Mr. Roh must, first of all, confess what he knows about the campaign funds during last year’s presidential election and afterwards. Then he must boldly demand that Lee Hoi-chang, the presidential nominee of the Grand National Party who ran against him, follow suit. After that, he must propose measures to cut the dark chains of corrupt politics, and put these measures up for popular vote. The sooner the president acts, the better it would be for all. There is bound to be pain for the president in the process. However, it would be the duty of a true leader of this country to persuade the public and to overcome this hardship.
Only when President Roh takes this determined attitude can we lay the foundation for “rich people, clean country.” It is not too late for him to resign afterward, should these measures be voted down. His resignation would be heralded as a valiant stand against corruption and injustice in politics, and perhaps that is the way Mr. Roh would be remembered forever. President Roh Moo-hyun is the only leader capable of making such a decision.
* The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Sioux Lee