Rooting out military cronyism

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Rooting out military cronyism

The government’s joint investigation team Wednesday announced the results of its probe into corruption in the defense industry. So far, the seven-month investigation - the largest since the founding of our Armed Forces in 1948 - has uncovered a myriad of graft cases adding up to 1 trillion won ($874.5 million) and waged corruption charges against 63 officials. Those include 10 generals, including former Navy Chief of Staff Hwang Ki-chul, who was involved in a bribery case involving the 3,500-ton Tongyeong salvage ship, and ex-Navy Chief Chung Ok-geun, who allegedly took kickbacks from a parts supplier.

The prosecution has singled out three primary reasons behind such widespread corruption in the defense sector: a slack monitoring system in the procurement process; a blind spot in military investigations; and collusion between former and incumbent officials thanks to an exclusive and obedience-based culture in the military.

Surprisingly, the investigation found more corruption in the Navy than in other branches of the Armed Forces. With the Navy purchasing much of its equipment separately from the Army and the Air Force, it’s more vulnerable to corruption. A unique bond among naval officers based on their shared experiences on the sea has also helped foster cozy relations, with some of them even working as arms brokers after retirement. The investigation found that officers on active duty fabricated the results of military assessment tests on the orders of their superiors in return for kickbacks or promotions. Our naval officers have shamefully resorted to profit-seeking and cronyism, leaving the focus on reinforcing combat capabilities fall by the wayside.

And the critical lack of oversight by the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) in procurement procedures is just as unacceptable. Even though the agency was established with the intent of rooting out military corruption, it failed to demonstrate expertise in evaluating the performances of weapons systems by concentrating on how to cut the budget for securing sophisticated arms. Despite the government’s campaign to fill half the agency’s employees with civilians, its top positions are still occupied by military officers.

Investigation systems for military corruption, too, had many holes. Officials at the Defense Security Command even sold sensitive information to arms brokers. It’s like letting the fox guard the henhouse. The military must overhaul its procurement procedures. If the government neglects such practices, our national security will be at stake.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 16, Page 34

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