Ending procurement corruption
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Choi Yoon-hee admitted that his son received 20 million won ($17,500) from an arms dealer. He maintains that 15 million won of that was later returned during the prosecutors’ questioning of his involvement in the Navy’s scandal-ridden purchase of Wildcat maritime helicopters.
Even if what he says is true, the fact that the highest commander of the military received money from an arms dealer is unthinkable.
The Navy wanted to purchase new, multi-role helicopters after the Cheonan warship was sunk by a torpedo from North Korea in 2010. But the purchase was completed based on forged documents that made the unqualified Wildcat helicopters, produced by Anglo-Italian company AgustaWestland, seem like the best choice. Choi was the chief of naval operations at the time and had the last say. He must be responsible for approving the poor-quality procurement regardless of whether or not he received money for the favor. He was putting the lives of soldiers and civilians at risk.
There seem to be few defense procurements, ranging from multimillion-dollar weapons systems for submarines, warships and aircraft to soldiers’ gear, that are without fault. How can the military expect young men to do their duty to the nation in flawed body armor and with rifles and vehicles that do not work? The governmental investigation team discovered nearly 1 trillion won in irregularities in the seven months since the probe started. The damage to the nation could be in the billions of dollars, not to mention the priceless setbacks to the country’s defense capabilities.
Defense procurement irregularities are not just an individual misdeed but a crime against the country.
More appalling is how lightly the military addresses the situation. Corruption cannot be rooted out if collusion between the defense industry and military officials is taken for granted. Procurement malpractices have a long history in the Korean military. In 1993, two former defense ministers and chiefs of the Navy and Air Force were indicted in the Yulgok project scandal. The legacy continues to this day. Ten retired and active generals are currently in trial over their involvement in corruption related to the procurement of naval ship parts.
Governments all have promised to do away with defense procurement irregularities, but there has been little progress. The Defense Acquisition Program Administration must first be fixed. It cannot be expected to be an effective supervisor while dealing with retired officers who have turned into arms brokers and lobbyists. Instead of cutting the defense budget, the government must establish a more accurate system to supervise the procurement process. JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 25, Page 30