Ethics starts at home

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Ethics starts at home

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Only 20 years ago, Korean society was not a corruption-free zone. A real estate billionaire became a lawmaker in the National Assembly by contributing two billion won ($2.19 million) to the party nomination process. He had never been active in the party or in the National Assembly and was asked why he became a representative. “It pays off,” he answered.
He went through hard times when he was a businessman leasing space in a mega commercial complex building. People from local district offices, local police stations, fire stations, revenue offices and other institutions stood in an endless line to receive “favors” from him. However, none of them appeared after he became a lawmaker.
It was a time when businessmen from the construction and transportation industry made up the Construction and Transportation Committee, hospital owners were on the Health and Welfare Committee and directors of educational institutions on the Education Committee. There was even a case when a former local builder changed places with another representative so he could be a member of the inspection team that oversaw state administration in the region where he did business.
Fortunately, politicians these days aren’t that impudent. Everybody knows that we should separate public and private interests to avoid conflicts.
The fundamental principle is that no one should judge his own case. It is not because those in public office are evil. It is because anyone can impede a fair verdict when a personal financial interest is at a stake. Public officials are called to act in a way that is more upright than average citizens. They should not take office unless they are committed to serving the nation. It is the same in other professional fields that require public duty, such as professors, jurists, doctors and journalists.
Lee Myung-bak, a former Seoul mayor, designated the village of Eunpyeong as a “new town” when his family happened to own some land there, which caused suspicions about his intentions.
Controlling the future of a district where his land is located cannot be excused.
Conflicts of interest continue even in the court system, where former court officials receive favors once they become lawyers.
It is not appropriate in terms of public duty to see a flock of 500 academics in a presidential campaign camp.
Still, there remains a question of whether we can blame any of academics when editors in chief, editorial writers and political editors dash to campaign camps after submitting their resignation papers.

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

By Kim Jin-kook [jinkook@joongang.co.kr]
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