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[Editorial] Rampant Corruption in Public Sector

Posted October. 16, 2008 04:54,   


Not a day goes by without news of another corruption scandal involving public officials. The National Assembly audit of the administration has discovered a host of misconduct committed by government officials. It’s no exaggeration to say state organizations are hotbeds of corruption. It is time for President Lee Myung-bak to tackle this problem.

Subsidiaries of Korea Electric Power Corp. allow mid-level managers as well as executives to fly first class on overseas trips. This supposedly spendthrift company received 668 billion won (537 million U.S. dollars) from the supplementary budget this year to make up for losses. Korea Gas Corp., which received additional funds of 336 billion won (270 million dollars), offered its employees and management English education worth 2.8 billion won (2.25 million dollars) over the past three years. In addition, 21 auditors of state-owned companies criticized for going sightseeing in Latin America in May were found to have received bonuses worth 900 million won (790,000 dollars).

Similar irregularities happened five years ago. Thirty-six public auditors pocketed millions of won in public funds by changing first-class reservations to lower class while going overseas for training in Oct. 2003. In the 2005 parliamentary audit of the government, five public companies under the Construction and Transportation Ministry (now the Homeland and Marine Affairs Ministry) contributed 341 billion won (274 million dollars) to corporate welfare funds and provided loans to employees at low interest, though their combined debts reached 45 trillion won (36 billion dollars). These cases illustrate that state-run organizations have wasted taxpayers’ money for a long time.

Though the combined debts of the four companies have ballooned to 60 trillion won (48 billion dollars), they have never failed to look after their employees’ welfare. Presidents and auditors of public companies, who were appointed to their posts after serving as politicians, often collude with labor unions. A case in point is Korea Airports Corp. At the end of 2006, the company issued a false order to work on weekends and paid 1,700 employees 145 million won (117,000 dollars) in overtime. More recently, affiliates of the Homeland and Marine Affairs Ministry were found to have provided free apartments to employees.

Government ministries and agencies sit idly by and the Board of Audit and Inspection has failed to prevent chronic corruption. Though National Health Insurance Corp. has received three warnings from the board since 2001 for excessively favorable treatment to its former union leader, the company has done nothing.

The National Assembly is not free from criticism, either. Lawmakers are helpless in the face of public organization executives who pledge to correct their wrongs but fail to deliver after the audit. This deplorable situation has continued for decades. President Lee must overhaul these irresponsible state-run organizations.