Police detectives raided April 9 the government-provided residence of Haenam County Mayor Kim Chung-sik of South Jeolla Province, a member of the main opposition Democratic Party. Combing through his home, they discovered as many as 30 bundles of five million won notes worth 150 billion won (140 million U.S. dollars) in shopping bags. In his desk drawers, 40 million won (36,000 dollars) worth cash was found. How the Democratic Party selected Kim to run for reelection Wednesday, when the arrest warrant for him was issued, is beyond comprehension.
Yeoju County Mayor Lee Gi-soo, a member of the ruling Grand National Party, was arrested for allegedly handing over a shopping bag containing 200 million won (180,460 dollars) in cash to the secretary of ruling party lawmaker Rhee Beum-kwan. The list of corrupt municipal and provincial government heads released Thursday by the Board of Audit and Inspection included the mayors of Dangjin County in South Chungcheong Province and Yeongyang County in North Gyeongsang Province who were internally appointed or confirmed as candidates for local elections representing the ruling party. A probe will see if the Dangjin and Yeongyang mayors accepted hundreds of millions of won in return for favors in construction orders.
Rumors are circulating over corrupt candidate recommendations with just 40 days to go before the June 2 local elections. A person can get recommended for a lower-level government post for 700 million won (630,000 dollars) and 300 million won (270,000 dollars) for a position at an upper-level government. Three hundred million won is worth four years of salary for an upper-level government council member. The cases discovered, however, are considered just the tip of the iceberg.
The local autonomy system began in Korea 15 years ago, but corruption in candidate selection remains prevalent and the amount of bribery grows by the day. This is because the system was incorporated into the food chain of central politics. The heads and council members of municipalities and provinces appointed by their respective parties in return for bribes recoup the funds spent on election by selling all the stakes and interests to companies and trading their positions for money. Forty percent of such officials end up not finishing out their terms because of corruption. This raises skepticism over the local autonomy system, which is often called grassroots democracy.
Corruption is the enemy of democracy and distorts the peoples intention. Only when corruption disappears can Korea become an advanced country. Both the ruling and opposition parties must prepare measures to permanently remove from politics those suspected of corruption. Authorities also need stricter supervision of the corrupt practice of nominations-for-bribes. The shaky local autonomy system can rise again only if voters open their eyes wide and render judgment on money-tainted elections and corrupt candidates.