No impunity for Kwak

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No impunity for Kwak

Kwak No-hyun, the suspended superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, can return to his post after having been arrested on charges of bribing his former campaign rival with 200 million won ($176,000) in exchange for quitting the June 2010 race. Though the Seoul Central District Court slapped Kwak with a fine of 30 million won Thursday, he still can do his job as head of the city education office thanks to the principle that he is presumed innocent until a final ruling is issued by the Supreme Court.

Despite our respect for the district court’s decision, we are deeply worried that his case may serve as a precedent for acquiescence in rampant bribery ahead of elections for public offices. Whether it’s well intentioned or ill intentioned, the money spent to persuade a candidate to withdraw from a race or agree to a unified candidacy is an unpardonable crime, according to our laws.

There’s no doubt that the education sector demands much stricter morals and ethical standards than other segments of society. Therefore, we believe it is utterly improper for the head of an elective education office to be allowed to continue to do his jobs until the Supreme Court makes a final ruling on the case. It is different from allowing the heads of local governments who were fined or sentenced to probation to return to their offices after having received the same sentence. The reason becomes clearer when you think about the repercussions that Kwak’s return to office will have on society, even after he was found guilty in the first trial.

Kwak reportedly said to his aides that although Lee Dae-young - the man who is acting Seoul metropolitan education superintendent in Kwak’s absence - asked the Seoul city council to re-examine the ordinance on students’ rights, he would dismiss Lee’s demand and sign the ordinance immediately after returning to office. Kwak can make the excuse that he just wants to put his liberal education policy back on track. Yet the cost of such an abrupt turnaround in education policy must eventually be borne by the students and their parents.

Most teachers are unanimous in their opinion that the controversial ordinance on students’ rights will not help ease the troubling rise in school violence because it emphasizes students’ rights without any mention of their responsibilities. Is it really urgent for the education authorities to pass the ordinance under such circumstances? Kwak must not behave as if he has been cleared of his inexcusable crime.

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