They’re all in it togetherEndemic corruption feeding on strong allegiances to regional, school and blood ties and supplemented by power and money is hard to weed out. The president has demanded action to root out corruption, and authorities have declared war against it, yet it fails to go away. Instead corruption is evolving into new forms to survive and spread in a new environment. Tricks to mask conventional forms of corruption such as favors, influence trading, graft and money-laundering are getting craftier. But the problem with dishonest government money is that it comes back as a tax upon the rest of the ordinary honest population.
The fallout from rampant corruption was underscored in a recent investigation by the Board of Audit and Inspection. One county head in South Chuncheong awarded pork-barrel projects to a certain construction company and was rewarded with a luxury villa and apartment. A county head in North Gyeongsang had a 3 billion won ($2.7 million) contract signed with a construction company where he and his father-in-law serve as the largest shareholders and embezzled 500 million won of the sum into his wife’s account. A head of a state-owned company based in North Gyeongsang endorsed an illegitimate gambling event and received porcelain worth 20 million won as a gift from its organizer. A county head in South Jeolla had cash kickbacks worth 150 million won stacked up in his closet and another 40 million won in a drawer. The man was then handpicked by an affiliated political party to run in the June 2 gubernatorial election.
Korea ranked 22nd among the 30 members of the Organization of Economic Development and Cooperation in last year’s Corruption Perception Index scale administered by Transparency International. A recent Board of Audit inspection supplemented our poor ranking on the public-sector corruption scale. Political corruption starts with electoral corruption and spreads through various connections.
Bribes and graft then become normal and commonplace. It’s easy to ignore one’s guilty conscience because everyone is in it together. In one county administration in Hongseong, South Chungcheong, 112 out of a total of 670 government employees were caught embezzling a combined 700 million won last year.
The recent scandal involving the corporate “sponsorship” of public prosecutors also stems from corrupt ties with a regional construction company. The spread of corruption has tainted law enforcement as well. It is no wonder that the fetters of corruption are hard to break. We must institute a continuing crackdown on corruption as well as a permanent monitoring and surveillance system.