[FORUM]Italian-style battle on corruption

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[FORUM]Italian-style battle on corruption

A decade ago young prosecutors were the reason many Italian politicians were visiting doctors, complaining of neurotic symptoms. In April 1993, a newspaper published an article that said, “Over the past year a growing number of politicians have visited psychiatrists to complain of nightmares and obsessions.” Many politicians woke up suddenly from bad dreams of being handcuffed by the police.
Since a sweeping investigation into Italian politicians started in February 1992, 619 politicians among a total of 945 representatives and senators have been issued orders for the suspension of their immunity, and 321 politicians have been summoned in a probe by the prosecution.
In Korea, as can be seen in the popularity of Prosecutor General Song Kwang-soo and Ahn Dae-hee, head of the Central Investigation Department at the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, “the war on corruption” is applauded by the public. In Italy, a prosecutor, Antonio De Pietro, emerged as a national hero after leading the movement against corruption, called “Mani Pulite (Operation Clean Hands).” Many praised him as the top national hero, after Giuseppe Garibaldi, who laid the groundwork for Italian unification. But politicians became furious, saying, “Greenhorns, preoccupied with petty heroism and ignorant of the world, are ruining the nation.”
Italian politicians dodged vigorous attacks from the public by calling for a referendum on a political reform proposal that would change their proportional representation system to a small electoral district system. At the same time, the media began to put pressure on the prosecutors by digging into their private lives, including romantic liaisons. Also, expressing concerns over the possible “Republic of Prosecutors,” Italian politicians started to take legislative measures that restrict judicial power. They prepared a proposal on the revision of the criminal procedure code that limited the criteria of issuing arrest warrants to murder, terrorism and Mafia-related crimes.
After Mr. De Pietro and three other Milan prosecutors resigned their posts in 1994 to protest these moves, the fever of “Mani Pulite,” which turned Italian political and business circles upside down, began to cool. So did the attention from the media.
Reforms are accompanied by pain. In 1993, a year after the prosecution began to investigate politicians and the business community, a series of construction projects came to a halt throughout Italy, leaving 100,000 workers unemployed. Contributions from businessmen to politicians were all passed on to the people, the consumers, as financial burdens. But when the bubble of corruption bursts, the profit eventually goes to the people. The projected construction costs for the Milan subway system fell from 80 billion lira per kilometer to 44 billion lira after the Mani Pulite.
Nevertheless, it was hard to say that Italy’s clean hands movement was a success. Now, 10 years after the initiative, Italy still remains high on Europe’s index of corruption, which Transparency International issues every year.
Although the Christian Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party, symbols of huge evil, disbanded, the main actors in Italy’s corruption remain at the boundary of the political community. As the statute of limitation for prosecution were terminated in many cases amid slow investigations and tedious court proceedings, Italians began to feel weary, and “a slap on the wrist” like the suspension of indictments became the norm.
“We found the virus, the cause of the disease, but could not take follow-up measures, such as the isolation of patients and the development of anti-bodies,” says De Pietro, currently a representative in the European Parliament. He points out that things would have been quite different only if a clause had been established by law, stipulating that “a person, once convicted on corruption charges, cannot run for public office.”
We should strike while the iron is hot. The prosecution’s investigation into politicians’ activities should be an opportunity to remove greasy, shameless and corrupt politicians from office.
If Korea misses this opportunity, we may suffer even more, watching as our national status recedes to the level it stood decades ago. The world has already changed into one where anti-corruption goes hand-in-hand with national competitiveness. Only the sharp gaze of public opinion will make a difference in our political culture.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok
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