[FORUM]How to reform politicsHow many National Assembly members will still be alive politically after the legislative elections in April? At this rate, not many. It seems that quite a few more will have to face the punishing hand of the prosecution and even more will fall because of the unmerciful votes of an angry public. A recent survey conducted in the Yeongnam and Honam regions showed that the majority of the people believed that more than 90 percent of the incumbent legislators had to go. It is all too natural for the public to feel angry and strike back at corrupt politics. But changing faces will not be enough to make our politics cleaner. Unless this system that links politics with money is changed, no matter how many new faces get elected this year, they will soon be wearing cuffs around their wrists for the same old allegations. If we want to stop money-related corruption in politics, we must understand the politicians that receive money and the businesses that give it. We must examine ways to deal with the lawbreakers and set adequate measures.
What we must first acknowledge is the fact that to have a democracy, we need elections in which candidates compete against one another and such elections cost money. Lots of money. Setting too strict a limit on how much money can be raised or spent could very well end up making all politicians lawbreakers. It would be better to place a generous limit and to demand more transparency in how the money is raised and spent instead. Of course, in answer to such a measure, politicians would have to show good faith to cut back on political spending by reforming the election system and abolishing local party offices.
Next, the political funds provided by businesses usually fall into two categories, “investment” and “insurance.” A business “invests” in return for special favors or treatment after the candidate gets elected. They also give money for “insurance” against retaliation for having been stingy during the election campaigns should a snubbed candidate be elected. In order to banish all political funds exchanges in expectation of special favors, we need to reduce government interference and control over economic problems and increase the transparency in administration so that it is impossible to dole out special favors.
“Insurance” political funds are usually given by businesses with vulnerabilities. In order to reduce such bribes, we must get rid of these business vulnerabilities. This requires efforts from both the businesses and the government. Some of the vulnerable points are created by businesses themselves; others were inevitable, less-than-legal expediencies necessary to avoid over-regulation. The prosecution may be holding back on investigating businesses because of the difficult economy. Nevertheless, businesses should reform their management structures by themselves and become more transparent.
The government should also try to reduce regulations in order to avoid pushing businesses into illegality. In addition, measures such as limited pardons for missteps in the past would give them a new start in life.
Finally, politicians who have broken the law should be punished accordingly. Until now, politicians have been able to defy their accusers by dragging their heels, and the investigators have been hesitant to go after them. The rare politicians who have been charged and found guilty always seem to find their way back to the top after a change of administration, sometimes back to their old positions and even stronger than ever. If this continues, we will not be able to get rid of corruption in politics by reforming the political funding system. Once a new system is implemented, politicians who have broken the law should be investigated and charged promptly, without exception, and banished forever from the political scene.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Ro Sung-tae