[OUTLOOK]Everybody’s dirtyThe recent allegations of illegal campaign funding do not concern politicians alone. They also concern the businesses that gave money to politicians and the voters who received money from politicians, the unholy trinity that makes corruption go round. The focus of the current controversy is on the politicians. Are they indeed the only ones to blame?
One cannot help feeling that businesses are acting shamelessly. Why did they give so much money to politicians? Were they threatened into doing so? Were they merely paying “insurance”? Perhaps, to a certain degree. However, were those the only motives? The businesses themselves know better. As the old saying goes, the person who ate the salt drinks the water. Businesses must have given money because there was something less than clean and aboveboard that they had done. They gave money in the hopes of receiving favors in the future. The Federation of Korean Businesses has had to apologize five times in a span of less than 10 years for corruption allegations directed at its members. Who can believe that this will be the last time? Federation members have announced that they would no longer give money to politicians under the table once political reforms are carried out. They are trying to dump the entire blame on the politicians.
Are the people free from any blame concerning the political funds? With the general elections in April, politicians who have not gathered money yet or have no money of their own are worried. “The elections are only five months away, but how are we to come up with campaign funds in this atmosphere?” they say.
The politicians argue whether it is possible that Korean voters, who expect the candidates to hand out money and gifts during elections, could transform themselves within months into voters who give their own money to support their candidates such as in advanced countries. These voters are now busy criticizing politicians. Thieves, they call them.
What about the politicians? They only know how to say that others are dirtier than they are. Even to the president’s proposal that the prosecution expand its investigation into all campaign funds, the politicians’ reaction is that the president and his aides are more immoral than they because they received more money. The only alternative they propose is for everyone to apologize en masse and to be forgiven en masse. These are the politicians who lied to the people that they were going to conduct their campaigns with money collected in piggy banks. They claimed that they were clean people who did not touch dirty money. Now that they have been caught, they want to be forgiven after a group apology. How can they be this shameless? Can this evil practice ever be corrected if everyone is forgiven and no one takes responsibility? This is why the future looks so bleak.
One must experience pain to break a bad habit. Without pain, bad habits can never be cured. Sacrifice is needed. People will look back on their mistakes when there is a sacrifice. Remorse and new determinations will be born from this sacrifice.
Lee Hoi-chang’s public apology was lacking something in this aspect. Mr. Lee said that if anyone had to go to jail, it had to be he. But he did not seem to have any real intention of making a sacrifice. Perhaps he was just feeling miserable.
In his words, he had tried to live a blameless life and regretted ever having jumped into the mudslinging ring called politics. He had hurt his reputation and his family in doing so. There does not seem to be any chance of his returning to public affection or esteem.
Who would believe that the presidential candidate had no knowledge of the campaign funds when his fund manager had boxes of his money stacked in his room during the campaign period? Even if he claims he did not know about it, he is only fooling himself. Perhaps that is why he also admitted that he had nothing to say even if people accused him of acting hypocritically.
What wrong did the party campaign fund manager do? He merely did what he was told to do by the party. What wrong did the Blue House secretary for general affairs do? He merely worked for the president. Are the people who are detained right now legislators or the candidates themselves? It is not convincing to say that all should be forgiven and forgotten after a round of apologies when all the top dogs are still free and only the underdogs have suffered.
Lee Hoi-chang should have admitted to knowing of the fact that SK had given his party money. He should have admitted to the truth behind the 1997 incident when the National Tax Service “collected” campaign funds from firms. Mr. Lee should say he had just been pretending not to know about these incidents and that the others are not to blame. “I am the responsible one,” he should say. “I will voluntarily visit the prosecution office and tell the prosecutors everything I know about the campaign funds. In his public apology, he should not have said, “Even if I go to jail.” He should have said, “I will go to jail. Instead, set the other people free.”
If Mr. Lee really goes to jail, even the most shameless politicians will be ashamed of themselves. Our conglomerates and the public will look around at themselves. Our bad old customs will also become corrected through a sacrifice like this. Mr. Lee will become the winner, not the loser.
He has already lost the election but he will win in history. The chance is still alive.
* The writer is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk