Morality check for officials

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Morality check for officials

The public is facing another disappointment in a high-ranking public official accused of corruption now that Chun Sung-gwan has withdrawn his nomination to become the next prosecutor-general.

People seem to be struck by the idea that someone in line for the top law enforcement position in the country could have had such reckless behavior. The general view is that the lack of morality is not just an issue for prosecutors, but is a problem plaguing the entire public sector.

It is difficult not to acknowledge that those in the public sector have casually abused their power, especially in consideration of recent incidents, including the surreptitious “sponsoring” of high-ranking officials, Blue House officials’ paying for sex, regional authorities’ misappropriation of funds and military medical officers’ playing golf while on duty.

It is also difficult to shake off the impression that high-ranking officials and the candidates for these positions are gradually losing their sense of morality.

Joo Yang-ja, the welfare minister in 1998; Jang Sang and Jang Dae-hwan, both prime minister nominees in 2002; and Lee Hun-jae, deputy prime minister for economy in 2005, were either forced to step down or were not named to the posts for which they were nominated because they had changed their residential records.

Chun acknowledged the same practice but he didn’t immediately consider stepping down.

What was once considered a major blemish on candidate resumes in the past was regarded as a minor mishap.

This increasing lack of morality seems to be related to the loose grip on ethics held by the current administration, which stresses practicality.

We don’t think ethics and practicality are necessarily exclusive.

If competent individuals are stripped of the opportunity to serve the nation in key positions because of their moral deficiencies, it’s not only a huge loss to the nation but also largely impractical.

And, for officials, nothing will be as impractical as failing to fight off the temptation to do something they might otherwise regret for the rest of their lives.

This is why the public sector must take the Chun scandal as an opportunity to take a good look at itself and for high-ranking officials to remind themselves of their noblesse oblige.

In addition, we can’t just demand morality from individual public servants, but have to establish a preventive and protective system that helps keep them away from all manner of illegal temptation.

That would be the practical thing to do.

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