Tackling corruption

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Tackling corruption

Lee Jae-oh, a former lawmaker and one of the closest confidants of President Lee Myung-bak, has been displaying great passion for his new position as head of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission.

Among his many ambitious plans is an ethics evaluation of all senior officials at government and public organizations. He also aims to hold regular meetings involving higher-ups from the commission, the Board of Audit and Inspection, the prosecution, the police and the National Tax Office. His more modest ideas include offering new one-on-one charity services.

He also recommends that public servants keep their lunches simple, spending no more than 5,000 won ($4.34) per meal. A meal with guests, he suggests, should not top 20,000 won.

The commission integrated corruption watchdogs and civil service agencies - such as Ombudsman Korea, the Korea Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Administrative Appeals Commission - when President Lee took office early last year. Of all their functions and responsibilities, their primary role is to oversee and prevent corruption in public office.

Lee Jae-oh wants to incorporate measures to back President Lee’s public-friendly policy backbone in addition to following through with his anti-corruption campaign. We understand his enthusiasm and eagerness, given his role in placing President Lee and the Grand National Party in power. But his plans should not stray from the commission’s legal role, and more prudence is needed in this respect.

Ethics review is a plausible idea, if it is used to reinforce awareness against corruption.

But how can one gauge the extent of hidden corruption as well as guarantee objectivity and fairness in evaluating powerful people and organizations?

Rather than rummaging through people’s lives trying to dig up dirt, what’s important is to regulate and discipline officials and not fall prey to corruption. Public officials also are entitled to choose where and what they eat. Hosting meals and events using public money can be regulated, but that, too, is not for the commission chairman to decide. As the president’s right-hand man, Lee Jae-oh should remember that what he says and does can create more than a few ripples.
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