[OUTLOOK]Ethical issues are public matterA few days ago in his address at the National Assembly, President Roh Moo-hyun declared a war against real estate speculators. Two days later, deplorably, his finance minister, Lee Hun-jai, became entangled in suspicions that his wife engaged in real estate speculation.
Mr. Lee has told the public that he will put more emphasis on growth than equality, that the economy would turn for the better sooner or later, and that real estate speculation should be stamped out. In light of his current troubles, he will be a heavy stumbling block to the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
Ordinary people’s disappointment with Mr. Lee, who was expected to carry out economic reform, may be beyond description.
Deputy Chairwoman of Transparency International Germany, Anke Martiny, said, “Exemplary behavior is more urgently required than legal regulations” to prevent corruption. Now that there’s talk that his wife may have been a speculator herself, the minister himself may know well how to behave.
In Europe, President Roh has a relatively good image. Many see him as a figure who has changed the paradigm of Korean politics by realizing democracy and transparency in domestic politics. They also think that he has contributed to eradicating corruption and dishonesty, Korea’s chronic diseases.
I believe he must have noticed that he had picked up this reputation during his visit to England and France last year. He is supposed to visit Germany at some point, and mainly because of his image, the university where I taught hopes to invite him. He is known as a former human rights lawyer and an honest politician of the new generation who is always on the underdog’s side.
In our country, we often see mysterious things happening: Whenever there are scandals involving government officials’ real estate dealings or their amassment of wealth by “money technology,” their wives, sons mothers-in-law or people involved directly in the incidents say, “I didn’t know” or “I don’t remember.”
What is discussed to prevent public officials and lawmakers from making a fortune by real estate speculation is the blind trust system, which is enforced in some countries, with results that are contrary to the intent.
In the case of Italy’s Berlusconi government, the system has caused confusion, and in the case of Britain, the system led to the so-called “Cherigate” in which Cherie Blair, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair, intervened in the trust fund’s purchase of houses in 2002.
Except for securities, the blind trust did not have any particular success in the United States. Germany has had a bitter experience with the trust system so that “trust models” have a slim chance of succeeding.
What should we do, then? All we can do is appeal to civil servants’ ethics and morals. What is most important, as Ms. Martiny said, is that government officials, “whoever they are, should begin with themselves.”
The president of Germany’s federal government, Richard Von Weizsacker, had once sent an official letter to help his daughter with her doctoral dissertation, asking Eric Honecker, then-general secretary of the East German Communist Party and also the head of state of East Germany, for research material.
Rita Suessmuth, former president of the federal parliament of Germany, frequently used her official car to visit her daughter in Switzerland. These two officials were sharply criticized for failing to distinguish public affairs from private ones and had to submit an official apology to the federal parliament.
Public officials’ basic awareness of ethics and morality comes before the law, and public employees and their aides should be aware that they are public figures.
This is what Max Weber meant when he referred to a “mature politician’s fateful task,” and people who chose politics as a profession should keep the code of ethics regarding their responsibilities.
Immanuel Kant said honesty is the best policy. If Korea’s political elite is making a fortune through a windfall income, who would want to work? What are President Roh’s weapons to uproot real estate speculation?
* The writer is a professor of political economics at the Free University of Berlin, Germany, and visiting professor of the Graduate School of Public Administration at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Sung-Jo