Superintendent learns a lesson

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Superintendent learns a lesson

Kwak No-hyun, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, has lost his post after the Supreme Court upheld a lower court sentence - one year in prison - on charges of giving a bribe of 200 million won ($179,000) so he would be the sole liberal candidate in the June 2010 election. We welcome the highest court’s decision as it reflects ordinary citizens’ sense of law.

Despite the irrefutable fact that he gave the money to a rival candidate, Kwak argued he should not be punished because he gave it out of goodwill. Even a day before the court’s ruling, he pressured judges by saying, “If I’m arrested, it will be an international joke.” The court thought otherwise, deciding that the money was compensation for a withdrawal of candidacy.

The court’s ruling is particularly meaningful because it drew a clear line on what constitutes bribery. It dismissed Kwak’s deft allegation that he cannot be penalized because he delivered the money after he was elected. The ruling might serve as a valuable precedent in preventing various types of corruption in future elections. We certainly hope so.

The ruling presents us with some lessons. Since returning to his post a year ago, Kwak created a stir by pressing ahead with an overly liberal ordinance on student human rights to challenge the government. He also went through a probe by the Board of Audit and Inspection after doling out high-profile posts to his substandard aides. Nevertheless, no one could put the brakes on his unscrupulous actions.

Civic groups are petitioning to change the law to allow removal of an accused superintendent until the case against him is concluded. It is urgent for the government to remedy the current systems to allow such suspensions.

Kwak is not the first superintendent to resign before his term expired. Kong Jung-tack, a conservative superintendent, had to step down due to election fraud. Seoul school superintendent elections have long been inundated with corruption. The money needed for an election - sometimes as much as 3 billion won - also helps pollute the process. The government should review and reform the current direct voting system.

Superintendents enjoy huge power because the decisions they make affect schools and students across the country. We urge authorities to do their best not to allow Kwak’s vacancy to disrupt the lives of our students or the education they receive.
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