Stop greasing the wheels

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Stop greasing the wheels

With just two years before the grand opening of the Yeosu Expo, the city is tainted with corruption. Not only the city’s mayor but also members of the city council are under suspicion for taking bribes from several contractors involved in the preparations for the global event. A high-ranking official in charge of installing an illuminated landscape project is suspected of having received 300 million won ($246,510) from the head of the architectural lighting design company involved in the project, while city councilmen took millions of won.

When the police started investigating the case, Mayor Oh Hyun-sup disappeared suddenly after applying for a three-day leave of absence. Yet no one has heard anything from him since he left his office 10 days ago. As a result, the new mayor elected in the June 2 local election now faces a strange situation in which he will have to hold his inauguration ceremony without his predecessor.

This is something that could have happened in an underdeveloped country. Instead, it has happened in the future Expo City.

This type of corruption, in which favors are exchanged for money, is typical. From the perspective of the companies, nothing can be done without a little lubrication. But the city government, armed with the rights to grant them permission to proceed, wields an absolute power.

Our provincial governments regularly get themselves entangled in dirty deals with private companies, rather than trying to help them grow. The Yeosu Expo bribery scandal is just an extension of such a disgraceful practice. The city officials and city councilmen have once again demonstrated an obsession with profit-seeking by taking advantage of their respective positions. Although it may be too late to reverse the recent election, the authorities should increase their efforts to eradicate corruption - beginning now.

However, we don’t believe such cases are confined to Yeosu. Not a few heads of local governments were arrested on charges for various acts of corruption during the previous local election. A governor of Dangjin County was even arrested at the airport while trying to flee the country after accepting a huge bribe from a contractor. If we want our local governments to have autonomy, the heads of local governments should vow to serve the people, not rein over them.

Dasan Cheong Yak-yong, a leading Korean philosopher of the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) who sought “practical learning,” said: “Governing the people by oppression is like being a wolf or tiger.” In his book “Mokminsimseo,” he said that eliminating such forms of harm and respecting the people, who are weak, is the essence of governance.

Today, inauguration ceremonies for new heads of local government will be held nationwide. These new officials should keep in mind what Dasan Cheong said two centuries ago.

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