Shame on the Seoul council chair

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Shame on the Seoul council chair

The prosecution asked for an arrest warrant for Kim Myung-soo, chairman of the Seoul Metropolitan Council, on charges of pocketing 100 million won ($93,000) from a construction company owner. We have to question if a man with such poor judgment and morality is fit to represent citizens keeping watch on the city administration.

Kim received kickbacks from a local construction company that wanted to demolish an old apartment complex in Shin-Banpo, southern Seoul, for redevelopment late last year. This is the first time an arrest warrant has been issued for the head of the city council, whose status in the city could be likened to that of the speaker of the National Assembly. If the allegations prove to be true, Kim is a discredited representative of Seoul’s citizens. It is outrageous that the head of the council has received bribes in return for exercising influence on a major redevelopment deal.

Kim was arrested by prosecutors while he finished playing golf with his acquaintances at a golf club in Yongin, Gyeonggi, on Monday at noon. The city council was to open an extraordinary session later in the afternoon to review a supplementary budget proposed by the city government. The opening ceremony, originally scheduled for 2 p.m., had earlier been delayed by two hours at the chairman’s request. The council was planning to review a bill to allow the city government to issue 200 billion won in bonds to make up for the shortfall in the free child day care program. The speaker of the city assembly delayed a review of an important issue to play golf.

The Democratic Party bloc at the city council accused the prosecution of conducting an unfair investigation. The group questioned the motives for arresting the head of the council, a Democrat, at a time when the city government is embroiled in conflict over the day care program subsidy from the national administration and the National Assembly’s ruling Saenuri Party. The prosecution must not apply any political yardstick in its investigations, but the DP has stretched too far in suspecting conspiracy in a bribery scandal.

Corruption and moral hazards may not be limited to the Seoul city council. We are suspicious about other local and provincial assemblies. If councils are tainted with corruption, the damage will hurt residents. The problem is that there is no mechanism to supervise and contain local assemblymen.

Residents and watchdog groups should keep their eyes open. We may have to consider expanding the ombudsman system to supervise local governance and operations. Most of all, local assemblymen themselves must commit to civil service with decency and responsibility. Otherwise, they could be stripped of their status by the citizens’ votes.

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