In cooperative elections, bribery remains rampant

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In cooperative elections, bribery remains rampant

An overhaul to the election system for cooperatives in agriculture, fisheries, livestock and forestry was supposed to root out the rampant bribery of the past.

But a little more than a month before all 1,328 cooperatives hold leadership elections on March 11, candidates are each spreading tens of millions of won to cooperative members for their votes. And some potential contenders have been bribed not to run by their rivals.

Changwon prosecutors said Friday they indicted a 57-year-old person surnamed Eo for bribing the head of a livestock cooperative, only identified by the name Choi, not to run for a second term.

Choi reported to prosecution that a messenger from Eo handed him a shopping bag filled with 50 million won in cash on Jan. 23. He was promised a second payment of 150 million won.

Both Eo and his messenger will be tried.

Cooperative confederations used to elect their leaders separately with municipal, county or district offices running the elections.

But rampant corruption led to the overhaul this year. All 1,328 groups in the agriculture, fisheries, livestock and forestry industries will hold simultaneous elections with the National Election Commission (NEC) overseeing the whole procedure.

As of Jan. 20, the NEC said it has busted 129 cases of illegal campaigning, 22 of which were forwarded to prosecutors and five of which are still under investigation.

The rest were issued warnings.

Bribery makes sense because the head of cooperatives can rake in the dough by exercising their power, said Heo Heon-jung, director of Good Nonghyup Maker, a non-profit organization of agricultural activists and farmers.

Heo added authorities “must take a step beyond monitoring corruption during elections by regularly overseeing those leadership positions.”

That head of a cooperative has a four year term, earns around 100 million won ($90,700) per year and is in charge of the annual budget, which hovers around 1 billion won for each organization.

In an effort to control rampant corruption, the South Chungcheong branch of the NEC has recently launched a campaign to “leniently treat cooperative members who have received money and valuables” in regards to the upcoming election by dropping fines if they confess.

The fine is 10 to 50 times what he or she has received, with a maximum of 30 million won.

Around 50 people reportedly confessed to having accepted bribes.

“I’ve decided to turn myself in because if I’m fined 50 times what I received, my entire family will go bankrupt,” said a 72-year-old surnamed Choi, who said he was bribed a million won for his vote.

In North Jeolla, four members of a livestock cooperative were each fined around 1.3 million won earlier this month for accepting hospitality from a prospective candidate.

“If elected by bribes,” said Han Min-su of the Korean Advanced Farmers Federation, the elected leader of a cooperative “is prone to be more focused on recouping what [he or she] paid in advance, rather than focusing on members’ benefits.”

“Members of agricultural, fisheries and livestock cooperatives must recognize this fact and conscientiously choose their bosses,” Han added.

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