[VIEWPOINT]Guidance or punishment?In 1999, President Kim Dae-jung asked my opinion on how to deal with the insolvency of the Daewoo Group. I answered that it was too late for him to intervene, and that the president could better prevent insolvencies at financial institutions and businesses if he left the clearing up of business failures to financial institutions. He should, I said, devote himself to political reforms.
In particular, I said, he should end corruption in political fund-raising practices and the connections between politics and business. If he made businessmen realize that their contributions to the president would not help their business and that if they didn’t contribute it would do no harm, the problem of politics and business adhesion would be automatically solved.
I also complained that it did not appear good for the president to meet the owners of conglomerates frequently. I emphasized that the apparent economic crisis was, in fact, a “corruption crisis” that came from the lack of political reform.
Now we have to ask if we have indeed overcome the financial crisis of 1997. Although politicians sounded the alarm to the people, their corrupt behavior ― disclosed by the prosecution and independent counsel ― shows vividly that there have been no big changes over two administrations in the fund-raising practices of the Blue House, presidential candidates, the National Assembly and other politicians. Old politicians, new politicians, “386 generation” politicians, the three Kim’s parties or post-three Kims ― there are almost no exceptions.
The financial crisis has been replaced with a domestic credit crisis; per capita national income has remained the same for nine years; the gap between income earners has been growing. The decline in manufacturing industries, social disintegration, and the emptiness of our hearts have become more serious.
I recently had two heart-breaking experiences. One was a conversation I had with businessmen who had visited other developed countries to ask for investment in Korea. During the day of the official meeting, they explained that Korea was making great efforts to encourage foreign investment. But then in the evening, when only the Koreans met, they said in one voice that it was impossible to do business in Korea. They asked me where they should go ― China, India, Vietnam or Eastern Europe? Who made the promise to make Korea the best place in the world to do business?
The other heartbreak was the advice from Chinese people that I heard in official meetings in Seoul and Beijing. China had learned from Korea so far, they said, but from now on Korea should learn from China. Such direct advice from Chinese, who are marked by ambiguity and dualism, made me realize that the status of Korea and China has been reversed.
We have made little effort to read properly the hearts of businessmen and the essence of business. There are two ways to end the bad old practices. One is to reform according to the law and punishment. The rule of law is more effective for improving the system. The other is for leaders to set an example to encourage their followers to change themselves voluntarily.
It is necessary to reform parties and politicians by way of restraint and discipline. In this regard, the prosecution receives criticism but generates expectations as well. It would be good to give examples and opportunities for reflection and repentance to businesses and businessmen; they are the other half of the illicit political-corporate connections. When the president and the political community set a model of political reform, clean elections and parties and transparent operations at the Assembly, business circles would break away from the temptations and incentives of its interest in politics.
Also, businessmen should be given opportunities to reflect on and repent for their past faults. A good lesson is that in handling corruption after his military coup, former President Park Chung Hee first handled businessmen with detentions and criminal punishments, but later he set them free and held them responsible for inducing foreign capital. This sparked the engine of economic growth. When given such opportunities, big businesses and the business associations they join could show their determination to cut political and business connections and carry out reforms voluntarily.
* The writer, a former minister of science and technology, is the chairman of the Forum for World Peace. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Jin-hyun