Some things hardly change in politics (KOR)

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Some things hardly change in politics (KOR)

The author is a national team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

1,778,226,070 won ($1.3 million) is the amount of assets voluntarily disclosed by former President Kim Young-sam and his immediate family at the first cabinet meeting he presided over since taking office in February 1993. During the presidential election, Kim promised to disclose the assets of lawmakers and high-ranking government officials, first grade or higher. It was a measure to emphasize the eradication of corruption in power.

The prime minister, the deputy prime minister and the head of the Board of Audit and Inspection also revealed the size of their properties. Then governing party also agreed to disclose the assets of its lawmakers.

They all started from the speaker of the National Assembly, the second in the order of precedence. National Assembly Speaker Park Jyun-kyu reported 4.1 billion won. But it was revealed that he had purchased land several times under his son’s name even though he was a minor.

When suspicions of speculation were raised, he eventually left the governing party, as well as stepped down from the post of speaker of the legislature. To convey his hurt feelings to President Kim, Park said, “It feels like scratching the itchy part of the soles of your feet with your shoes on.”

The controversy over the disclosure of public officials’ assets immediately after President Kim took office led to a complete revision of the 1981 Public Service Ethics Act. The governing and opposition parties unanimously mandated the disclosure of property owned by officials in political service and the registration of property by government officials of grade 4 or higher.

In September 1993, all assets of 1,167 high-ranking officials in the legislative, judicial, and executive branches were made public for the first time in Korea’s constitutional history. The aftermath continued. The chief justice and prosecutor general, who reported 2.7 billion won and 1.9 billion won, respectively, resigned three days apart for their alleged speculation.

Over the past 30 years, items subject to registration of public officials stipulated by the Public Service Ethics Act have been steadily revised. Now, there are more than ten categories, including stocks, jewelry, antiques, and memberships, as well as real estate, cash and deposits. Virtual assets are expected to be added soon.

On May 11, the People Power Party and the Democratic Party (DP) agreed to speed up the review of the bill to add cryptocurrency to the list of property registration for public officials. This is due to the controversy over the possession of more than 6 billion won worth of cryptocurrency by Rep. Kim Nam-kook, a DP lawmaker. While the representative clarified the circumstances, he was criticized for “posing as an ordinary person,” who had previously bragged about his frugality.

“Why did our political party not have the trust of the people in the past? They just do not believe in political parties and politicians who say one thing and mean another,” said former President Kim in April, 1993, when the public officials’ property disclosure scandal was in full swing. Even after 30 years, the nature of politics has not changed for the better.
국회의원 재산공개
위문희 정치부 기자
17억7822만6070원. 김영삼(YS) 전 대통령은 1993년 2월 취임 후 첫 국무회의에서 자신과 직계가족의 재산을 자진 공개했다. YS는 대선 기간에 국회의원과 1급 이상 고위공직자의 재산공개도 약속했다. 공직사회의 부정부패 척결을 강조하기 위한 차원이었다.  
총리와 부총리, 감사원장도 뒤이어 재산을 공개했다. 여당인 민자당도 소속 의원 등의 재산공개를 결의했다. 사달은 국가 의전서열 순위 2위인 국회의장에게서 났다. 박준규 국회의장은 41억원을 신고했다. 그러나 아들이 미성년자였을 때부터 아들 이름으로 여러 차례 토지를 구입한 사실이 드러났다. 투기 의혹이 제기되자 그는 결국 민자당을 탈당했다. 국회의장직에서도 물러나야 했다. 그가 YS에게 서운함을 전하며 남긴 사자성어가 유명하다. 신발을 신은 채 발바닥 가려운 데를 긁는다는 뜻의 ‘격화소양(隔靴搔痒)’이다.  
YS 취임 직후 불거진 공직자 재산공개 파동은 1981년 제정된 공직자윤리법의 전면 개정으로 이어졌다. 여야는 만장일치로 정무직 공무원의 재산공개와 4급 이상 공직자의 재산등록을 의무화했다. 같은 해 9월 헌정사상 처음으로 입법·사법·행정부의 1급 이상 고위공직자 1167명의 재산이 고시됐다. 후폭풍은 계속됐다. 각각 27억원과 19억원을 신고한 대법원장과 검찰총장이 투기 의혹을 받아 사흘 간격으로 사퇴하는 일이 벌어졌다.  
그로부터 30년이 흐르는 동안 공직자윤리법이 규정하는 공직자의 등록대상 재산 항목은 꾸준히 정비됐다. 부동산과 현금, 예금뿐만 아니라 주식·보석류·골동품·회원권 등 10여 가지에 이른다. 조만간 가상자산도 추가될 전망이다. 여야는 11일 암호화폐를 공직자 재산등록 대상에 추가하는 법안 심사에 속도를 내기로 합의했다. 최근 더불어민주당 김남국 의원에게 제기된 최대 60억원어치의 암호화폐 보유 논란 때문이다. 김 의원이 해명에 나섰지만 과거 검소함을 강조하던 발언과 대비되며 ‘서민 코스프레’라는 야유가 쏟아진다.  
“지난날 왜 우리 정당이 국민의 신뢰를 받지 못했습니까. 국민은 겉과 속이 다른 정당과 정치인을 믿지 않습니다.” 공직자 재산공개 파동이 한창이던 1993년 4월 YS가 한 말이다. 30년이 흘러도 정치의 속성은 나아진 것이 없다.  
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