[Viewpoint] Ending corruption is a ‘fair’ goal

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[Viewpoint] Ending corruption is a ‘fair’ goal

“Fair society” is a strange phrase. When the president says it, he gives life to the phrase, and it rings with healthy values, noble pursuits and good wishes. Words sometimes have magical power: once you utter them, they come true. The fair society slogan did indeed come alive - and it has morphed into a monster.

The concept of a fair society implanted an illusion in the public’s mind. It gave a boost to the administration’s popularity, but the promise is a fantasy. In a five-year term, no president can possibly accomplish such a grand cause. The public then realizes that the promise will not be met, and they respond with anger and frustration. Delusion and betrayal are food for the monster.

The Lee Myung-bak administration presented a “fair society” as its mission and enjoyed sensational political popularity using people-friendly political rhetoric. However, the trick backfired and it has become a big burden for the administration.

The Busan Savings Bank corruption has provoked a national fury, and average citizens are reeling from the ugly, never-ending revelations. The scandal is an epic tale of greed spread over 10 years that involved administrations under Presidents Kim Dae-jung, Roh Moo-hyun and Lee. It is a grab bag of abuse of power, collusion, political protection, bribery and lobbying. The scandal involves several trillion won, and prosecutors estimate that the size of the bribes alone will be enormous.

The Financial Supervisory Services and the Board of Audit and Inspection have also been implicated in the scandal. Collusion and under-the-table dealings based on academic, regional and old-boy networks have also been revealed.

Under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, Busan Savings Bank beefed up monstrously. As mutual credit finance services turned into savings banks, regulations became relaxed. The title of “bank” also improved the image. Busan Savings Bank earned a reputation as a model for providing financial services for average people and was awarded a government honor.

The bank’s management lured customers by offering higher interest rates. Then it squandered its deposits on illegal and corrupt ventures, destroyed its balance sheets and got shut down. The average clients lost their money. A total of 226 billion won in deposits were lost. The executives used the hard-earned savings of average people to enjoy extravagant lifestyles and run their banking group into the ground.

Let’s examine the case of Park Hyeong-seon, the second-largest shareholder of Busan Savings Bank. He was the godfather of the Gwangju democratization activists. Now he is known as a godfather of corrupt dealing. He reportedly used his contacts with the democratization movement, as well as in academia and his home region, for lobbying.

The executives of the savings banks began an aggressive lobbying campaign in the Lee administration to save themselves. They solicited government bigwigs to try to survive. Yun Yeo-seong and Park Tae-gyu were in charge of bribery, and Eun Jin-su, a commissioner of the Board of Audit and Inspection, was bought off. There is a shocking allegation of the involvement of Kim Jong-chang when he was heading the Financial Supervisory Service.

The slogan of “fair society” stirred up the public. And it reacted to the Busan Savings Bank scandal in an obvious way: by demanding punishment for corruption and injustice.

However, the Blue House is not being so direct on the subject because of the controversy over the central investigation unit at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, which is probing the scandal. The National Assembly wants the team to be shut down because it’s too powerful and supposedly political in its choices of targets to investigate. Finally, the Blue House took a side and opposed its abolition. But some Grand National Party lawmakers still want to shut down the team. Who wouldn’t be confused? Is President Lee really determined to expose this massive bank corruption to the clear light of day?

Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik’s answers at the National Assembly also lacked substance. When he was in charge of an audit of savings banks, he said he had received pressure from “50,000 different places.” He later explained that he didn’t mean from government officials or the current administration. While he sounded serious, his answers lacked specifics and failed to convince the public. A fair society demands the president to be determined. As the president has yet to show any firm resolve, his administration is suffering a backlash.

The social cost of corruption is tremendous, and it’s hard to get over the resulting distrust of the government, antagonism toward its leaders and the frustration of the common man. Since our democratization and industrialization, corruption around our leaders has become a cancer. Corruption is far worse than a natural disaster, which can be recovered from. It is an obstacle to the country becoming a truly developed country.

President Lee must declare war on corruption. His accomplishments include winning a bid to build nuclear plants abroad and exporting T-50 advanced trainer jets.

Ending the legacy of corruption is more valuable than winning business deals. Lee needs to do something to soothe the citizens’ anger and show his belief in a fair society. Anyone and everyone involved in the scandal has to be revealed, whether he is associated with the Roh Moo-hyun, Kim Dae-jung or Lee Myung-bak administrations.

The Lee administration is at a crossroad. Exposing the savings bank corruption is the key to its success.

*The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Park Bo-gyoon
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