[EDITORIALS]An innovative kleptocracySome of the civil servants at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry were discovered to have received a huge amount of bribes in exchange for handing out medals and awards. The tactics the civil servants used were surprising, since it is rare to see medals and awards become the focus of bribery.
Fifteen public servants at the ministry were involved in the bribery case, including some high-level officials. The perpetrators told the companies, which were participating in a competition for agricultural products, who the judges were and what the terms of evaluation were. Some even fabricated official documents, such as the export performance of the companies. Subsidiaries under the ministry were also pressured to nominate companies that were ineligible for the competition.
The companies that bribed the ministry won national awards. With the awards, the companies were able to triple their revenues, since consumers thought they were buying top-quality products. Some of the products were selected to be used as presidential gifts for guests at the Blue House.
The public servants even overlooked the fact that national subsidies were used in real estate speculation. Nobody knew what the Board of Audit and Inspection or the Agricultural Ministry had been doing until the situation reached a tipping point.
Last year, the government handed out 30,000 medals and awards. It is, however, doubtful that the awards were given to the right people. Not too long ago, a public servant working for the National Railroad Service embezzled 2.8 billion won ($2.9 million) over three years by making false documents. This administration has been frequently patting itself on the back for being Korea’s most corruption-free government. It has also persistently stressed how innovative it is. One of its “innovative” goals has been to make administrative dealings more transparent.
We would like to ask if bribes and special treats are the fruit of innovation. Corruption stems from regulations. Although this administration has claimed that it has abolished many restrictions, it is not enough. People say the government gets rid of one regulation and a new one pops up the next day.
Since bureaucrats deal in regulations, bribery keeps happening. If there are too many public servants, they create unnecessary regulations and use them to increase their powers. Since the Roh Moo-hyun administration was launched, the number of public servants has increased by more than 200,000. A large government, it seems, cannot root out corruption.