Pulling aside the veil

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Pulling aside the veil

The Government Public Ethics Committee has made public the assets of 1,825 high-ranking officials last year. The size of their average assets increased to 1.29 billion won ($1.17 million), up 14 million won from a year earlier. The increase was possible because 66 percent of them added to their fortunes thanks to land price increases and boosted savings despite an economic slowdown. Slightly more than 20 percent saw their wealth increase by more than 100 million won. Given ordinary citizens’ economic plights - as seen in frozen real incomes for the past five years - senior officials are being criticized for living in a different world.

It is wrong to cast suspicions on such increases in wealth of high-ranking officials without proper reasons. Unfortunately, 26.9 percent of them refused to notify the authorities of the assets of their parents or children. And many senior officials simply refuse to report their wealth. The remarkably high figures for lawmakers (37.3 percent) and senior judges (46 percent) make us frustrated. The average man on the street can’t be blamed for suspicions.

Current ethics law for high-ranking officials allow those who maintain independent living or support others to not report their assets to the authorities in order to protect their privacy. Viewed from a strictly legal standpoint, that’s not wrong. But how things work in real life is quite different as parents and children of high-profile officials are frequently involved in corruption cases. If high-ranking officials refuse to report their assets after borrowing their parents’ or children’s names or bank accounts, there’s no way to uncover it. A high-profile official can even wield strong influence on a listed company after buying shares of the company in the names of his parents or children.

High-ranking civil servants complain that if the authorities take into account the assets of their parents and children, it could exaggerate the size of their actual assets. After all, everything our parents or children own is not our own possession. But what attracts our attention is not the amount of their assets. Even if the senior secretary to the president for civil affairs has assets in excess of 40 billion won, there’s no problem as long as she has accumulated it legally. High-level government officials must reveal their assets transparently because the public should know if there was any problem with the way they built their wealth or if there could be any room for conflicts of interest because of the assets they possess. The government must make it mandatory for officials above a certain level to disclose the assets of their parents and children. There’s no denying the relevance. JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 27, Page 30
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