Go to contents

[Editorial] Is Gov`t Serious About Corruption Crackdown?

[Editorial] Is Gov`t Serious About Corruption Crackdown?

Posted November. 19, 2009 09:30,   


Prosecutors are probing two investigators who are alleged to have received entertainment at bars worth 140 million won (120,000 U.S. dollars) on 60 occasions from a businessman imposter and a member of an organized crime ring over a two-year period. A civil servant in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, embezzled more than 4.1 billion won (3.6 million dollars) over the past two years before being caught by the Board of Audit and Inspection. A senior official at the National Tax Service allegedly pressured companies subject to audits to purchase paintings for above market prices from his wife’s gallery. A staff member at a provincial environmental office was caught accepting free golf trips and bribes on 36 occasions in return for business favors to environmental evaluation companies. These examples of public sector corruption just surfaced yesterday and the day before.

Corruption involving civil servants has recently come out day after day. Prosecutors caught 696 government employees for embezzling money from state budget items, subsidies and funds worth a combined 100 billion won (87 million dollars) from March last year to September this year. Those caught include a civil servant who pocketed 2.6 billion won (2.3 million dollars) that should have gone to the disabled. A petty officer also stole rice meant for the military worth 270 million won (234,000 dollars). A tax official was caught for colluding with and taking bribes from a store doing fake credit card transactions in return for looking the other way. Corruption and misdemeanors have also often plagued the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae. The discovery of these scandals would be something fortunate had they been unearthed by the government’s campaign of a stern crackdown on irregularities in the public sector. Yet this is not the case.

Eradication of corruption in officialdom ranks 12th among the 100 national agenda items presented by the Lee Myung-bak administration. President Lee has repeatedly said he will crack down on corruption. In his Liberation Day speech Aug. 15, he said, “The government will sternly handle corruption in the public sector.” As evidenced by the country’s Corruption Perception Index announced Tuesday by Transparency International, nothing shows that corruption in Korea is eroding.

The government usually conducts a crackdown on corruption by mobilizing inspection teams whenever a scandal erupts. This is often a short-lived and one-time response. A revision bill to the Civil Servant Act was drafted on imposing fines of up to five times the amount of bribes or public funds a civil servant apart from sanctions or criminal punishment. An official who is fined three million won (2,600 dollars) or more for bribery and embezzlement would also face immediate dismissal. The bill, however, remains pending at the National Assembly for more than five months. The rate of indictment for bribery involving civil servants is under 40 percent, lower than the average for criminal cases. Even if corruption is discovered, authorities shun taking action against the guilty and instead try to protect them.

President Lee’s repeated pledge to eradicate corruption in the government and public sector sounds an empty promise now.