Taking a piece of the pork
People are in disbelief. They know politicians can be greedy, but cannot believe they would dare to steal money, paid in taxes, to fatten their wallets. Legislators used their influence to push pork-barrel projects in their districts, which is commonplace, but near their own real estate holdings. The value of those lands increased and they profited hugely. Rep. Kang Ghil-boo of the Saenuri Party representing Ulju, Ulsan, owned 4,509 square meters of land in four locations in his constituency - and within 700 meters of new roads that were developed at a cost of 28 billion won ($25.7 million). The value of his land jumped from 52.83 million won in 2004 to 423.49 million won in just a decade thanks to the developments paid for by the public.
Rep. Joo Seung-yong of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, who represents Yeosu, South Jeolla, secured national funding of 26.5 billion won to expand roads in his constituency. It was later discovered that Joo owned properties totaling 3,010 square meters around the expanded roads. His properties’ values also sharply went up.
Kang reported personal wealth of 3.45 billion won last month, putting him among the richest legislators in Ulsan. Joo’s wealth also jumped 49 million won from a year earlier to total 4.52 billion won. While most people live on a stagnant or reduced income at this time of economic lethargy, legislators seem to be in another dimension. As much as 81.8 percent of total legislators reported increased wealth compared to the previous year. Those who saw their wealth jump by more than 100 million won numbered 134, while 12 boosted their wealth by more than 500 million won. The biggest reason for the increase in personal riches was profit from real estate.
Kang and Joo argue that they did not lobby for the pork-barrel projects for their constituencies to make a personal profit. But few believe them. Lawmakers are in the position of influencing budgets that they review. They normally lobby for their constituencies, but there can be selfish interests involved. Lawmakers should be required to report their properties if they are included in an area that will be affected by government-funded development and return any profit they make to the state. A provision to prevent conflicts of interests should be revived in the anti-graft law known as the Kim Young-ran law that passed last month so that no lawmakers can address budget reviews that can be associated with self-interests. A separate revision must be made to require senior public officials to disclose assets of family members.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 8, Page 30