Kwak losing his moral compassKwak No-hyun has admitted to giving 200 million won ($186,000) to Park Myong-gee to drop out of the race for superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, a post currently held by Kwak.
Park, also a professor at Seoul National University of Education, said he was withdrawing his candidacy to unite liberal forces behind a single opposition candidate, even though he was leading the polls at the time. Kwak said the money was a loan to help out a peer in financial straits, denying allegations that he was involved in an underhanded deal to persuade Park to drop out of the race. The decision to forsake the candidacy was Park’s and no compensation was promised in return, Kwak said. But it is surely testing the bounds of credulity to suggest that such an amount of cash was innocently passed on to a person who subsequently yielded the candidacy to a major election.
Kwak was elected on the basis of his relatively clean ethics and standards compared with his predecessor, the more conservative Kong Jung-tack. Kwak pledged to clean up the curriculum, do away with unnecessary school bureaucracy and root out corruption as part of his reformist platform. But if the latest allegations prove true, Kwak has undermined his own position. He maintains that he was just helping out a friend, but the Public Office Election Law places a strict ban on gestures of this kind before and after elections.
In 2006, Han Chang-hee, the mayor of Cheongju in North Chungcheong, lost his post for giving out envelopes filled with 200,000 won of cash to two journalists. He was charged for violating the law prohibiting pre-election campaign activities. Was Kwak also ignorant of the news that another candidate was slapped with huge fines for treating villagers to meals worth 10,000 won? As such, it is something of a leap of faith to imagine that he acted altruistically in dishing out millions of won to a rival candidate during the election.
The Seoul education superintendent oversees a budget of 6 trillion won a year and exercises the right to appoint 55,000 teachers. The post demands a high standard of ethics as it provides a role model for students and the public. Kwak must step down as no one wants a two-faced, law-breaking superintendent heading education policy.
Meanwhile, there are allegations that Park was promised support for his bid for the SNU presidency in exchange for his cooperation. This issue also need investigating.