Rooting out corruption at the top

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Rooting out corruption at the top

Lord Acton, a 19th century British historian, famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

In other words, the more power is concentrated, the greater the chance of corruption.

The recent graft scandal involving a senior official at the Blue House underscores this idea. The president’s office is a symbol of absolute power in Korea.

Although the Constitution clearly splits up power among the three branches of government, in reality the president eclipses the legislature and judiciary.

Because of the heavy concentration of power - and therefore the high possibility of corruption - in the Korean political scene, the government has publicly underscored the importance of oversight on Blue House staff. But the latest round of scandals suggests the susceptibility of presidential aides to the temptations of bribes and other forms of corruption.

The most recent incident is particularly worrisome, as it involves the head of an internal inspection team whose role is to root out corruption and instill discipline among Blue House officials. Instead of keeping an eye out for corruption and setting an example for others, he allegedly pocketed bribes himself.

With the core of the corruption-fighting arm of the administration contaminated, the Blue House can hardly expect to win credibility with the public.

At the moment, the suspect - Bae Geon-gi, the senior inspection official at the Blue House - strongly denies the allegations that he received bribes from business owner Yu Sang-bong, who operates several cafeterias that service workers at construction sites. Bae is also close to senior police officials who have been charged with taking bribes from Yu. He has also been a close aide to President Lee Myung-bak for years, despite rumors about his behavior.

In this case, it seems that Bae’s brush with absolute power will be his undoing.

President Lee now has less than two years left in his five-year term. Those in power should pay close attention to the political adage that conservatives are ruined by corruption. Conservatives at the top levels of government who simply go with the flow can easily fall prey to corruption.

This is nothing new in Korean politics, as corruption scandals have cropped up near the end of every administration’s term in office.

Officials in power should learn from the past and clean up their act.
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