Preposterous perksKorean and Japanese diplomats have had a long-established informal role of entertaining politicians when they make overseas stops. Coffers earmarked for diplomatic activities at foreign missions are discreetly used to subsidize dinners and other hosting expenses for VIPs traveling in the area.
Japanese politicians declared a desire to end the gratuitous travel privileges they enjoyed in the past. While meeting leaders of junior coalition members of the Social Democratic Party and People’s New Party, President Ichiro Ozawa of the Democratic Party of Japan vowed that members of the ruling coalition will forgo any preferential treatment by foreign missions when traveling abroad.
Politicians also will be asked to fly business instead of the customary first class.
Politicians, depending on the purpose and manner of their foreign visits, may require services by emissaries from their home country. The problem is that they expect indulgence from bureaucrats serving abroad out of pure arrogance and self-importance because of their status.
Diplomats are also programmed to serve and please politicians who rubber-stamp government policies. Some emissaries enjoy hosting politicians, using it as an opportunity to build up connections and intimacy with political figures.
Such practices spawn from a common Asian cultural system where personal connections are naturally incorporated into the way of doing business. But prioritizing service to visiting politicians over diplomatic affairs amounts to negligence of duty, likely appearing primitive in the eyes of Western diplomats.
The Foreign Ministry in August sent out guidelines to its overseas missions for receiving political guests.
Ambassadors or consul-generals have been asked to go to the airport only when National Assembly executive members and special envoys make visits. But such restrictions are still hard to obey in practice.
As in Japan, politicians from our country must change their mind-sets in order for any real change to occur.
Diplomats should do no more than assist politicians in their formal foreign missions. Korean politicians are allowed by the government to fly first class, although some use the business cabin. Many still travel on perks that don’t require receipts on top of their usual travel allowances. Politicians should first of all come down from their high horses and practice more discretion with tax money by revealing their travel expenses.