Address registration abuses

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Address registration abuses

A handful of officials nominated for top government positions in the recent cabinet reshuffle were found, during the course of their confirmation hearings, to have manipulated their residential records in order to get their children into the schools of their choice.

Registering a false address is a violation of Article 37 of the inhabitant registration law, and is punishable by up to three years in prison or a fine of up to 10 million won ($8,170).

In Korea, it is a shameful but persistent problem. Since the 1970s, Koreans have relied on real estate and education for security and social status, and have registered false addresses to increase their standing in both. Although it is illegal, many commit the crime without remorse because they believe these social concerns justify their actions. The authorities, meanwhile, treat the matter lightly, and they do not have the technology nor the personnel to track down every resident and confirm addresses.

The most disturbing thing is that it is the members of the upper class who are most frequently guilty of illegal registration. Most people could not even dream of buying or living in a neighborhood known for the excellence of its schools, so they feel no need to register under a different address. But it is common practice among members of the public service, political, academic and media sectors.

The problem persists regardless of who is in office. In the Kim Dae-jung administration, Jang Sang and Jang Dae-hwan, candidates for prime minister, stepped down for reporting false addresses. In the Roh Moo-hyun administration, the wife of Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hun-jae was suspected of tampering with her family’s residential records. President Lee Myung-bak also had to apologize for changing his address for the sake of his children’s education.

Law enforcement officials are no different. Chun Sung-gwan, who was recently forced to withdraw from consideration for the prosecutor general’s post, was reprimanded by lawmakers on such suspicions during his confirmation hearing. The next candidate, Kim Joon-gyu, was questioned for the same reason. Kim was suspected of changing his address four times.

Confirmation hearings expose other ethical problems such as plagiarism and tax evasion. But nothing has been more divisive than false residential registration. Each time, the candidates drop their heads or apologize. Each time, they bring shame on the entire country.

Yet the abuses continue. According to the Seoul Office of Education, there were some 192 cases of false registration among high school freshmen in 2008, compared with 138 in 2007. The unofficial number is likely much higher when cases involving real estate speculation are included, and the national numbers are higher still.

We have been living too long with this disease. It is time we dealt with it once and for all.

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