Risky bets don’t pay off

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Risky bets don’t pay off

In his New Year’s address, President Lee Myung-bak brushed aside concerns that his administration - now in its fourth year in office - has entered a lame-duck session, saying that such a period does not exist for a hard-working government. But he appears to have completely overlooked the behavior of some officials who already seem to have checked out.

A dozen senior government and civil service officials were found to have engaged in compulsive gambling at a Jeongseon casino in Gangwon. We can’t help but wonder how the president can deny the lame-duck accusation when government officials are frequenting casino rooms with reckless abandon.

The Board of Audit and Inspection said it suspects that some of the senior government workers, a group that includes officials at the vice-ministerial level as well as teachers and policemen, lost billions of won at the casino.

The officials boldly entered the Jeongseon casino - the only one in the country that Korean citizens can visit legally - even though they knew they could easily be tracked down.

The board investigated gambling among government officials during the latter half of last year, spurred by President Lee’s call for a “fair society” during his Aug. 15 Liberation Day address. In that speech, the president vowed to create a just and corruption-free society amid public fury over rampant cronyism in the government.

At the time, Lee pledged to employ a zero-tolerance policy on senior government officials, even if they were found guilty of relatively minor transgressions. He even went so far as to warn officials that penalties wouldn’t be limited to sackings or demotions, saying they could also involve legal charges. The officials caught gambling, however, either discounted the warnings from the president or have long been deprived of ethics or conscience.

The inspectors must determine where these officials came up with the money to squander on gambling. It is highly unlikely that they gambled with their paychecks, meaning they probably spent money from under-the-table deals. The internal inspection should not stop at disciplinary action. Police investigations are required, too, and criminal charges may be necessary.

President Lee said in his New Year’s address that 2011 would lay groundwork for Korea to become a top-flight country.

But as long as he allows corrupt government officials to remain in his administration, it will remain a distant goal.
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