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[Opinion] Every Little Bit Helps

Posted March. 05, 2008 02:28,   


“My father is blind / There is no way to help him / I’ve come here to beg you for a favor / Please give me a spoonful of your food / Every little bit of food will help…”

This is part of “Shimcheongga,” a traditional Korean narrative song. Shim Cheong, who is known for her filial piety, begs for food from her neighbors to feed her blind father. The expression “Every little bit helps” stems from the old Korean saying, “If ten persons each give a spoonful of food, they will make a bowl of food.” In other words, many people each giving a little donation can raise a huge sum of money to help the disadvantaged. Though few people nowadays are said to be benevolent toward the less privileged, there is no shortage of heartwarming stories that live up to the true meaning of “Every little bit helps.”

But no matter how good the purpose might be, money accumulated that way can backfire. Park Cheol-eon, a powerful politician under the Roh Tae-woo administration, accused a dance professor of misappropriating the assets of Park and his relatives amounting to 17 billion won. Speculation has grown that the money was a slush fund or was amassed through bribery, prompting Park’s close aide to flatly deny the allegation. “Park’s family and his acquaintances gave a little to set up a foundation for unification and welfare,” the aide said. But if no irregularity was committed, why did Park deposit the money in dozens of bank accounts under the names of other people?

Given that his substantial influence earned him the nickname “royal prince” at the time, it is natural to raise suspicion over how Park raised more than 10 billion won. Though the money was made of slush funds and bribes, it is virtually impossible to investigate the source and purpose of the amount since the statue of limitations has expired. His power was visible in the run-up to the 1992 general elections, as his Daegu election office was thronged with heavyweights from politics, business and sports.

Under the Kim Young-sam administration, Park was convicted and served time in prison for accepting bribes of 600 million won from a slot machine operator, charges which Park still denies. Ironically, some argued at the time that his indictment was politically motivated by Kim, as Grand National Party lawmaker Hong Joon-pyo, then a prosecutor, spearheaded the investigation. The case of Park, once a powerful lawmaker and a Cabinet minister who said he raised the 17 billion won through a little help from like-minded people, seems to run counter to the spirit of mutual assistance.

Editorial Writer Park Won-jae, parkwj@donga.com