Whistle-blowers need respect, protection

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Whistle-blowers need respect, protection

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A high-school student prayed to God to speak with him. “Dear God, how long is 100 million years to you?” God responded, “It is one second.” The boy asked again, “How much is 1 billion won ($916,000) to you?” God said, “It is 1 won.” Then the boy coyly smiled and said, “Can I have 1 won?” God answered, “Sure, wait one second.”

But what if God responded, “Sure, I will give you the money if you spend one year in prison?” Four out of 10 high school students in Korea would say they would go to prison. Young Korean Academy’s Transparency Movement Ethics Research Center surveyed 6,000 students in elementary, middle and high school. When asked if they would spend one year in prison to make 1 billion won, 12 percent of elementary school students, 28 percent of middle school students and 44 percent of high school students responded they would. Transparency International Korea surveyed 1,031 young Koreans about whether it is more important to get rich or live honestly, and 40.1 percent chose the former.

Lee Dong-heub has been nominated as chief justice of the Constitutional Court. If he hadn’t accepted the nomination, we wouldn’t have known about how he got reimbursed for personal expenses. It’s been quite a while since key appointments have had to go through confirmation hearings, but many public officials remain ethically challenged. Even young people say they would go to jail if they can become rich. We need courageous whistle-blowers who will reveal public corruption and wrongdoing.

However, whistle-blowing for the good of the public is not easy. They are often treated as traitors or informers, and have to take great risks. Recently, the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission ordered four agencies to reinstate whistle-blowers and fine two agency heads. An officer at the Gwangyang municipal government in South Jeolla reported a colleague to the inspection department for failing to include 27 million won in revenue from the waste charges. The officer was assaulted by the colleague and given a pay cut.

The situation is not much different in developed countries. According to Gerald Vinten, the author of “Whistleblowing: Subversion or Corporate Citizenship,” 87 whistle-blowers’ lives were traced, and most of them lost jobs, 15 percent got divorced and 10 percent committed suicide. Especially for the corruption related to tax and public fund, related laws - such as the laws on corruption prevention and installation and operation of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission - should be revised so the informant can be protected.

At any rate, we have all learned from Lee Dong-heub’s case that this “special-purpose expense” goes into the pockets of high-ranking officials. While scrutiny is sometimes too harsh, the confirmation hearing is still necessary.

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

by Noh Jae-hyun

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