Handling procurement corruption

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Handling procurement corruption

Three men were indicted for supplying the military with defective bulletproof jackets that were distributed to soldiers on the frontline. Senior navy officers also are being tried for procurement-related corruption.

Kim Yang, former Patriots and Veterans Affairs Minister and grandson of prominent independence fighter Kim Gu, is being probed for accepting a massive bribe in exchange for his help approving a helicopter procurement contract.

Going by the list of prosecutors’ findings over the last year, it would seem unlikely that any of the supplies purchased by the military are safe, let alone functional. A warship has been found with a sonar system dating back to the 1970s, a mine-hunting vessel was equipped with faulty mine-sweeping equipment and a submarine was found to have forged papers certifying its engines.

It raises the question of whether military officials are working to defend the country or help North Korea. But responses and punishments for the corruption have been pitiful.

In a parliamentary defense committee hearing, Defense Minister Han Min-koo lamely advocated for the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, saying that since the establishment of the agency, there have been fewer major-scale corruption cases. Some top brass are said to have protested corruption probes because they were undermining morale in the military.

But it is the top officials themselves who have brought down morale. While some at the top have been pocketing bribes, soldiers are being given faulty weaponry that could cost them their lives.

The Board of Audit and Inspection discovered suspicious purchases of 1 billion won ($902,000) in gift certificates by the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI). Although it suspects the cash certificates could have gone to military officials, it has not proceeded further with the case. KAI has been chosen as the primary candidate to develop next-generation fighter jets, a project worth 18 trillion won. If the suspicious dealing is not fully investigated, the costly fighter jet program could also be tainted with defects and irregularities.

Han said the government will come up with a comprehensive measure to ensure transparency in defense procurements and root out corruption after all the investigations are finished. But we cannot rely upon the military for self-reform and oversight. The government should consider institutionalizing prosecutors in charge of overseeing defense procurement corruption.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 19, Page 30

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