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Wealth Disclosure by Officials` Relatives

Posted April. 03, 2010 08:27,   


Looking at the records of changes in wealth owned by ranking officials, the portion of ranking officials who refuse to disclose wealth held by close relatives is increasing year after year. As many as 796, or 34.8 percent, of the 2,284 officials required to report their wealth data declined to disclose that of the relatives. The refusal rate is up from last year’s 31.8 percent. In the executive branch, the portion of officials who denied disclosure increased every year to reach 34.3 percent this year.

The Civil Service Ethics Act has a clause allowing an official to decline disclosure of thee wealth of his or her relatives who are not directly supported by the official after approval from the Civil Service Ethics Committee. The clause is meant to protect the privacy of relatives if they are economically independent from the official. In Korean family culture, relatives form strong kinship and family ties, so the right not to disclose their wealth could be exploited by officials to hide their wealth.

The criteria for denial of disclosure of such wealth is set at 1.25 million won (1,110 dollars) per month in monthly salary for families with two or more members, and 1.98 million won (1,758 dollars) for those with four or more members. Hence, the exemption can cover virtually all direct relatives with income of an official. In the latest disclosure, the refusal ratio was 66 percent at the Korea Communications Commission, 54 percent at the Board of Audit and Inspection, 51 percent at the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office, and 44 percent at the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae. The ratio of non-disclosure was higher than average among the more powerful government agencies.

The rule requiring disclosure of wealth by civil servants has invited controversy over possible privacy infringement. Since the system was introduced to create a transparent government and increase public trust in the public sector, it should continue to be operated in a way that retains efficacy. The government must preempt the possibility that the system allowing officials to refuse disclosing their relatives’ wealth could be abused by officials as a way to avoid reporting their wealth. One suggestion is to consider the introduction of a system requiring public officials above a certain level to disclose all wealth held by their parents and children.

More effectively verification methods are also needed for changes in wealth records as reported by officials. The Civil Servants Ethics Committee reviewed 1,798 officials who reported their wealth, and instructed adjustment of their reporting in only 171 cases, with no requests to levy penalties. The three-month deadline for the review is too tight a schedule as well.

The system requiring ranking officials to register their wealth, which was introduced by the Kim Young-sam administration, made important contributions to reducing corruption committed by officials abusing their power. By using the experience gained from the operation of this system, Korea must remedy any loopholes in the policy to maintain the intended objectives of the program.