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[Opinion] The Power in a Name

Posted October. 06, 2001 08:41,   


`There is nothing as slippery as the doorway to an important person`s house`

This Irish proverb shows that there is no difference across cultures among people who wish to ingratiate themselves with an important person. Living as we do in this capitalist world, the doorway to rich houses must be very slippery indeed.

People with money are probably spending their time peeping through the gates of powerful people`s homes, while people with power are looking through the gates of the rich. These may get together and guard one another`s gate. It is the character of the spiritually bereft people who only seek material goods to seek power if they have money or to desperately grab money if they have power.

History has repeatedly shown us that attachment to wealth and power brings ruin, but this is true only when the law is justly enforced. People rise to a high position in society and believe that they will be the exception to this rule because they think they can control the law to serve their interests. In this country, their faith have received its reward since the law shines its grace only on those with power. It is hard to expect the rich and the powerful to avoid the temptation of collusion when the nation applies its law differently according to persons.

All the noise in the past month about these `gates` is related to the same thing. The scandals showed how disgusting the clean-up can be for a party thrown by people and their gofers who grew up in privilege and quickly achieved success. Businessmen more adept in conning than business, their accompanying mobsters and politicians, a `rotten prosecutor` as one ruling party representative called him, and intelligence officers and policemen were all part of the raucous drama.

Even more repulsive is the way these people behaved after the scandal broke out. May be it was too much to expect them to be honest, but the president of G&G Group, Lee Yong-Ho`s conduct at the Assembly hearing was truly reminiscent of some sly animal. It saddened the criminals` hearts when he was asked whether the public prosecutor had requested a job for his fifth cousin and he responded by changing his story.

Even if he says that he received no such request, is the hiring of chief public prosecutor Shin Seung-Nam`s brother, and former head of the Ministry of Construction and Transportation Ahn Jung-Ham`s brothers as innocent as the accused claim? What insane businessman will offer 60,000,000 won and a job to a person if he were not the brother of the chief public prosecutor? Even if Mr. Shin has no legal responsibility in this case, only a few people will believe that he is innocent enough to wage the kind of battle that is taking place in the Assembly hearing.

Mr. Ahn`s case is no different. Would the alcoholic beverage company treat his brother the same if he was not related to the head of the National Tax Administration who has the power of life and death over the company owners? Mr. Ahn could have avoided a career death if he had not tried so hard to give inconsistent explanations and stories and admitted his guilt from the beginning. He pushed so hard at the last for the `tax investigation` but even the `spirit of Manisan` looked away in the end.

These public officials say that the scandals happened without their knowledge. Why, then, are the people turning away from Mr. Shin and Mr. Ahn? The responsibility to guard unlawful use of influence comes with a powerful position and name. When the family members begin to use and abuse this position, the society becomes full of despair and anger. Preaching labor and hard work becomes pointless.

The 18th century British economist Adam Smith wrote, ``The powerful and their bureaucrats are the cause of inefficiency. They are public servants who live off the people`s labor and production.`` Power founded on the people`s labor and production is not something that an individual should share with his family. If he cannot be responsible with the power conferred to him for service, he no longer has the right to be a public servant.

Lee Kyu-Min (Editorial Staff)

Lee Kyu-Min kyumlee@donga.com