Favoritism that went a little too farIn a recent gathering for Seogwipo High School alumni in Seoul, Han Dong-joo, mayor of Seogwipo on the southern tip of Jeju Island, said he was assured of his seat by Woo Keun-min, governor of Jeju Island, if the latter wins the local election next year. Han asked for support for himself and Woo from more than 100 high school alumni attendees, saying he could help the old-boy network and their businesses in Jeju if he remains in office longer.
The Jeju government dismissed the mayor and carried out an investigation, filing for criminal charges against Han for violating the code of public office neutrality. Jeju branch of the National Election Commission also embarked on a separate probe. Under the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province Law, the governor has the authority over appointment and dismissal of mayors for the Jeju and Seogwipo cities without going through elections.
Woo claims Han spoke with a forked tongue. But one cannot publicly make a slip of the tongue on something as grave as an under-the-table deal for a government post. If there is any truth in what Han had said, he would be violating the public servant’s duty to keep political neutrality under the Government Employees Election Law, and charged with an attempt to bribe or to draw support during election.
The election commission must summon Han as soon as possible and investigate thoroughly into illegalities. Prosecution also must separately investigate whether Han has violated the election law or broke any laws using his public authority and office. The Board of Audit and Inspection should look into whether there has been any favoritism at play between senior government officials and businessmen of the same alumni group in Jeju.
The Jeju Special Self-Governing Province Law was created to give authority to the governor to name heads of cities in the islands to better and effectively help build the province as Asia’s top tourism destination and autonomous city. If the authority and independence was misused for self-interests and not regional development, the person in charge must be found accountable. The Assembly also would have to interfere and draw up a revised law to prevent abuse of power by autonomous governments.