[Viewpoint] Married with corruption

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[Viewpoint] Married with corruption

It was 1999 when five-star hotels were allowed to host weddings. Since the 1970s, having a wedding at a hotel was considered an act of vanity, and the government banned it. Therefore, it was not a common practice until six or seven years ago, after the ban was lifted. Then, a new era of five-star hotel weddings began about five or six years ago, as hotels remodeled their banquet rooms into wedding halls. As supply skyrocketed, having a wedding at a hotel became not such a special event anymore.

Because the meals cost about 100 million won ($88,800) each and flower arrangements cost tens of thousands of won, a wedding is the goose that laid the golden egg for a hotel. A five-star hotel earns up to 30 percent of its sales from weddings and four-star hotels earn up to two-thirds of their sales from them. That’s why the hotels are putting effort into allowing clients to have the most luxurious weddings they can ever imagine.

As regular wedding halls improve their services, hotels are now presenting new, party concept weddings by hosting receptions and gala dinners. And some hotels said their reservation rates this spring are double that of last year.

What is the key to recession-proof hotel weddings? From the perspective of consumer economy, weddings are a textbook example of “trading-up consumption,” in which consumers will spend an endless amount of money to satisfy their emotional satisfaction. People believe the more money they spend, the higher their self-esteem will rise - hence the higher cost of weddings. But that alone cannot explain the motivations behind this lavish matrimonial practice.

Maybe the answer can be found in Koreans’ practice of giving money as gifts. A wedding is one of the major ways for a public servant to openly receive cash gifts. It’s generally thought that the more luxurious the wedding is, the more money bride and groom’s parents will receive.

After all, in Korea, a wedding is not about the couple, but the parents. When a wedding takes place for a child of a high-level official, we often see traffic jams near the venue. The wedding is crowded with guests who just stop by to give cash and exchange greetings with the parents.

Because the parents want to recoup the cash they doled out at other people’s weddings in the past, and because they want to collect other means of “appreciation” that they might not receive in normal times, it is better that the wedding is extremely luxurious to pressure the guests into presenting envelopes stuffed with more money.

In fact, when public servants report their assets, they often cite their cash assets were increased because of the money for family occasions such as weddings and funerals. Representative Lee Sang-deuk of the Saenuri Party said the 700 million won that he had spent to operate his office was the merely the cash gifts from family events.

During its investigation into the Grand National Party (now called the Saenuri Party)’s money-for-vote scandal in the leadership election, the prosecution found out that 50 million won from a company was provided to a son of a former lawmaker. The probe later revealed that it was the wedding gift.

The Anti-Corruption & Civil Rights Commission recently presented a plan to give a higher score to a ministry in an anti-corruption review if the ministry’s public servants have weddings for their children without public announcements. Additional points were proposed for having weddings at churches or city and district community halls. The president reportedly supported this plan.

The plan reflects the serious reality of cash gifts, but I am skeptical that government control would work in this era. It is also questionable if the government has the right to intervene in these private functions.

Recently, more and more senior officials are having quiet weddings for their children. Some refused to receive cash gifts unless they were from their relatives. But the weddings were not necessarily humble. They still shell out their money to make the events memorable.

A wedding is a joyful celebration of family. There is no reason to be bothered about the government monitoring it. When parents decide to not receive cash gifts, they can be free from the link between their children’s weddings and corruption. They also do not have to waste money to have extravagant events because there is no need to show off.

by Yang Sunny

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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