[Outlook] Root out the source of corruption

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[Outlook] Root out the source of corruption

Should we say we feel completely devastated or that we were too naive, when politics is bound to be corrupt?

It is shocking to know that even former President Roh Moo-hyun was implicated in the Park Yeon-cha corruption scandal. It is as shocking as when the Seongsu Bridge collapsed, because this former president had emphasized moral and clean politics as his key political asset.

Even though the economy was in bad shape, housing prices were soaring and our ties with allies had worsened, the people appreciated that the Roh administration, compared to its predecessors, made efforts to clean up politics.

That’s why one feels even more betrayed to hear about Roh’s alleged implication with the scandal. The case poses a fundamental question of whom we should trust and follow in Korea. Top leaders of the political community in Korea are suspected of being implicated in the bribery.

Not only the former president but also two former leaders of the legislature have been summoned by the prosecutors, as they too are suspected to have taken illegal donations.

The president and the speaker of the National Assembly represent, respectively, the authority of the administration and the national legislature.

For this reason, their alleged involvement in corruption cannot be regarded as their own private issue, unlike ordinary public employees or National Assembly representatives.

The current scandal will surely have a negative impact on the people’s conception about major agencies of state that form the basis of the country’s governance.

In order to establish a stable democratic society, the people’s voluntary agreement with and respect for constitutionalism and fair implementation of policies are needed. But this is possible only when state agencies have proper and legal authority.

This is also why the present case is different from slush fund cases under Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo, two former presidents with ties to the authoritarian era.

The suspicion that former President Roh Moo-hyun and two former speakers of the National Assembly took illegal donations is more than their private affair.

It weakens the people’s trust and respect for our country’s democracy in general.

How can the vicious circle be broken? The recent scandal makes us think once again about the relationship between politics and money. It is true that in real politics people need money.

But we have had a tendency to view the tie between politics and money from an idealized, strict point of view. Ideally, the easiest way to resolve issues about donations for politicians would be to break the tie between politics and money.

This is why in 2004, when the Political Funds Act was revised, the size of political funds and ways of raising funds were limited. This proved effective in the past several elections.

But as was revealed in the prosecutors’ investigation into the case, politics did not work as it should have according to rules and norms.

Taking reality into account, in order to stop inappropriate ties between politics and money, we should have made more efforts to reveal how money flows into politics through certain institutions, rather than trying blindly to stop politicians from raising and spending money. We should pinpoint the problem rather than taking potshots at it.

It is more important to publicize from whom a politician received donations and how he spent them, rather than putting a limit on the total size of donations he can receive.

Former President Roh says he borrowed money in order to pay his debts. A more serious problem is that his debts and loans did not appear in his disclosures of his private assets.

A shadowed area outside the scrutiny of institutions gives rise to corruption. Due to these problems Korea’s democracy is facing another serious challenge now.

*The writer is a professor of political science at Soongsil University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kang Won-taek
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