Rooting out corruption

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Rooting out corruption

The city of Seongnam in Gyeonggi has become the archetype of a kleptocracy, particularly under the eight-year administration of former Mayor Lee Dae-yub, who ended his second term in office in June.

Lee, his relatives and aides all enjoyed a spending spree with money from the city coffers and committed every crime in the corruption handbook - from bribery to embezzlement to trading in influence.

Lee and at least 20 of his friends and family were finally brought up on charges by the prosecution the other day. It is a wonder how city council members and citizens alike tolerated such a corrupt administration for so long.

The mayor’s corruption spree has been stunningly bold. He habitually pocketed bribes and amassed much of his wealth by giving out construction contracts to private companies and embezzling government funds using false receipts. It is known that he regularly sold jobs and business opportunities to his relatives and subordinates.

When prosecutors raided Lee’s home, they discovered a treasure trove of goodies that included 12 million won ($10,400) worth of whisky, 80 million won in cash, 300 boxes of luxury brand neckties and more than 30 luxury handbags.

The bigger problem is that he is not alone. Of the 230 mayors, governors and district heads who served from 2006 to 2010, as many as 101, or 44 percent, have been charged with various corruption allegations. The head of Dangjin County, South Chungcheong, received an apartment as a graft, and the former mayor of Yeosu ran off with millions of won in bribes and was later arrested by the police. Under these circumstances, it is almost impossible for the public to trust that local government heads will be any different, no matter where they are.

Local government heads currently enjoy the status of “petite president” within their constituencies. They have authority over public appointments and licensing of regional development projects. Also, there are no oversight mechanisms at all, because even though local councils exist, they are either often equally corrupt or negligent of their job to oversee the executive body.

Therefore, the role to rein in rampant corruption in local governments nationwide lies with the citizens themselves. Residents are the ones who pay for corruption in the end. They must be the ones to root out corruption in their governments and ensure their taxes are well spent.
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