Keeping councillors honest

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Keeping councillors honest

The Seoul Administrative Court has ordered local government councillors to return excessive salary increments that they awarded themselves after residents in some districts filed suits complaining about financial irregularity.

The court ruled in favor of 14 residents living in the Geumcheon, Dobong and Yangcheon districts in Seoul who filed suits against local councillors for awarding themselves pay raises out of proportion to their duties. The court ruled that the councillors had secured the pay increases by manipulating a public survey.

The court’s decision marks the first time neighborhood residents have used a system initiated three years ago to provide a means to file such lawsuits.

And it’s the first time in Korea that a residential community has pulled together to put the brakes on their local councillors’ irresponsible behavior.

Inspired by the court’s decision, we expect residents will be encouraged to monitor their local government offices more actively in future.

Clearly, we can make our local governments more efficient and more democratic if residents team together to keep an eye on what is going on in their district. Residents should continue to use such lawsuits to recover money unjustly received by council members.

Last year alone, the salaries of local councillors across the country rose 36 percent year-on-year; it means they raised their own pay without following regulations and laws.

It’s not as if this kind of financial dishonesty has occurred only in the three districts involved in the recent court case. Out of the 25 district offices in the capital, 10 were found to have similar problems.

There is even criticism that the councillors gave themselves raises without even holding sessions.

Municipal councillors should put their houses in order before it is too late. If not, they will only jeopardize the autonomy of their local government offices. Their self-serving wage increases combined with stories of taking bribes and accumulating wealth at the expense of the public will destroy them in the end.

They should also remember that originally the position of a district councillor was honorary, which carried no salary. They should return to their initial purpose of serving the people who voted them to office and not seek self gain.

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