President vows tougher ethics rules

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President vows tougher ethics rules

President Lee Myung-bak said yesterday that the government will toughen ethics regulations for public officials, blaming a massive corruption scandal involving savings banks on the long-running practice of government and judicial officials giving favors to their retired colleagues.

The “jeongwanyeu” practice, which means giving “honorable treatment to former officials,” is believed to be widespread in South Korean society, especially among prosecutors and judges. Calls for ending it have risen after revelations that ex-financial regulators sought to help troubled savings banks avoid punishment for irregularities.

“This practice is rampant not only in financial supervisory organizations, but also in other sectors in society, ranging from the judiciary, tax office and national defense to the civil service,” Lee said in his biweekly radio address.

“Without eliminating such practices, however, we will not be able to move toward becoming a leading, advanced country,” he said. “The general public sees the corruption of elected public officials and high-ranking government officials as most problematic. In this connection, the government will rigorously revise the Public Service Ethics Act.”

The corruption scandal centers on corrupt savings banks seeking the influence of high-level politicians and senior officials in exchange for bribes in an attempt to avoid punishment for extending illegal loans and a string of other irregularities.

The scandal was a blow to Lee’s “fair society” campaign and efforts to strengthen his image as a leader who cares for low-income families, as a former aide to Lee and top member of the Board of Audit and Inspection was arrested on charges of accepting bribes from a savings bank.

Making the society fairer takes greater priority than making the country richer, Lee said.

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