[Viewpoint] President Lee, it can happen to you, too

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[Viewpoint] President Lee, it can happen to you, too

I wonder what President Lee Myung-bak thinks of the scandal surrounding Park Yeon-cha.

The scandal is implicating a long list of political figures who received money from the chairman of Taekwang Industrial, a self-confessed influence-peddler. I wonder what the first lady, the president’s brother, and his son, sons-in-law, friends and key aides are thinking. Are they thinking that this has nothing to do with them or do they realize this could happen to them too?

Many loose ends will be taken care of soon. Some people will go to jail and some will evade punishment. When the spring and summer rainy season is over, public prosecutors will go on vacation. And then the followers of former President Roh Moo-hyun will gradually disappear from the people’s memory. After their departure from the scene, where will the attention of the public go?

The Lee Myung-bak administration has elements that are vulnerable to people like Park Yeon-cha who try to buy favor with money.

First of all, there was no “reform ceremony” at the start of this administration. Historically, all previous administrations proclaimed that they were pursuing ethical reform as soon as they assumed power. Although corruption scandals involving their sons and friends eventually dashed each president’s professed hope for reform, there were noisy ceremonies where they claimed reform was their goal, at least in the early stages.

President Kim Young-sam was elected after spending an astronomical amount on his campaign. Perhaps it was to make up for this extravagance that he served cheap noodles to people who visited the presidential mansion.

Sometimes key advisers take on the role of reformers. The administration of President Roh Moo-hyun broke up the Democratic Party and created the Uri Party, proclaiming that they would practice clean politics. Ultimately, it was shown that the establishment of the new party was a mistake, and now we see where those good intentions led.

But there was at least an attempt to change things somehow at the start of the administration. However, there has been no such attempt by the Lee Myung-bak administration. It has loudly shouted its slogans to revive the economy and make Korea an advanced country, but advocated ethical reform quietly.

It was no coincidence that some cabinet members were criticized as belonging to the “Gang-Bu-Ja” or “Go-So-Yeong” factions, made up of wealthy Gangnam residents who graduated from Korea University, attend the same church as the president and hail from the Gyeongsang provinces.

In many ways the Lee Myung-bak administration is just as vulnerable to cronyism as previous administrations - perhaps more so. The Park Chung Hee administration had “coup d’etat cronyism” and the Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo administrations had “fifth republic cronyism.” The Kim Young-sam administration had “Sangdo-dong cronyism,” named after Kim’s home neighborhood. People from Donggyo-dong - home to Kim’s rival Kim Dae-jung - were not allowed in, even if they also participated in the democratization movement. Everyone had a Gyeongsang accent. Then, “Jeolla cronyism” ruled the Kim Dae-jung administration. All roads led to Gwangju, Mokpo and Jeonju.

It was the cronyism of the “386 generation,” - referring to people in their 30s who were in college in the ’80s and were born in the ’60s - that ruled the Roh Moo-hyun administration. They were united by the shared experience of street demonstrations, enduring tear gas and jail terms.

President Roh called himself a member of the 386 generation and the 386 generation considered the president “a political tool.” The weakness of 386 cronyism was money. They needed money to live, to maintain their quality of life and political funds, to pay their taxes and to send the son of the anti-American president to the United States for his studies. This is why people like Park Yeon-cha and Kang Geum-won, who were not even politically active, were accepted as members of the ideologically-oriented generation.

The Lee Myung-bak administration practices “KK cronyism,” for Korea University and the Gyeongsang provinces (formerly romanized as Kyongsang). “The people’s Korea University,” as the school’s slogan goes, has already proclaimed that it’s headed for globalization, but its cronyism shows it’s all too local.

How will President Lee evade the trap of cronyism? He will certainly favor his close, trustworthy and skilled friends. There are positions to which you can only appoint people you fully trust.

Therefore, the solution is supervision. They should be appointed but scrutinized thoroughly. If the office of the senior presidential secretary for civic affairs does not have enough manpower, a special supervision team should be created.

President Park Chung Hee ordered the Blue House audit and inspection team to take photographs of the houses of around 100 entrepreneurs.

They say President Park looked at the photos and said to Chief of Staff Kim Chung-yium, “A house like this will not do. Workers and the people are going through hardship. They should not use their money like this just because they have earned a lot.”

Kim quietly met with the entrepreneurs in question. Most of them made up an excuse that it was necessary for the purpose of “entertaining their buyers.” Kim persuaded them by saying, “The presidential mansion is small. Buyers will be more impressed if you lead a frugal life.”

It is said that they got rid of their expensive residences after that. Of course, it’s no longer the 1970s. But there are many means of supervision the president can still use. The White House conducts long background checks before it appoints people to high-ranking positions. The fate of his administration rests won the will of President Lee Myung-bak.

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

by Kim Jin
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