Saturday, November 24, 2007

Repost: seoulsearcher - Corrupt to the Core

Here is a Korean perspective on corruption here in South Korea and how that is fatal to it becoming an international hub. I completely agree.

I took the time to look at some of SeoulSearcher's other posts and they're interesting, so click over and check out what he has to say.

Again, thanks to ZenKimchi for posting this. Otherwise I would have missed it completely.

Corrupt to the Core

Korean newspapers reported the other day that when the father of a tax collector died, more than 100 large wreaths, each costing some 200,000 to 300,000 won (approximately $185-$275), were placed on both sides of the passageway to the funeral home.

Most of the wreaths came from the presidents or owners of small and medium-size companies in the area where the tax collector worked. That was not all. The report went on to say that representatives from those companies and other acquaintances lined up waiting their turns to shake hands with the tax collector, offer condolences and give him white envelops, containing, no doubt, large sums of money.

The line was so long that an envious third-party observer was heard to quip: “why should anyone try and send their child to law or medical school? Tax collectors seem to be doing much better than lawyers or doctors these days.”

What was more amazing was the fact that the tax collector was only a 7th grade government official. That is to say he was pretty much near the bottom of the pile of civil servants rank-wise. And yet, he must have been able to give all those businessmen a big break when he assessed and levied tax on them. The favor obviously was being returned to him on the occasion of his father’s death.

As far as I know, however, there was no follow-up report on the tax collector. The public was merely overawed and marveled at the prowess of the lowly government official, but no one—not even law-enforcement officials or investigative reporters—decided to dig into his job performance to see if there was any wrongdoing.

In any case, if such a low-ranking tax collector could enjoy so much power and influence, one cannot help wondering what would happen to the head of the National Taxation Service under similar circumstances.

As though to illustrate this point, a scandal broke out last month when Jeon Goon-pyo, head of the National Taxation Service was arrested on charges of taking $66,000 in bribes from one of his promotion-seeking deputies.

The very first official duty Jeon performed, according to the press report, was to open a large brown envelope placed on his desk for his eyes only. And he apparently found money in it and pocketed it calmly and matter-of-factly. Later, he denied all charges but resigned from his post anyway.

And then, there are two of President Roh Moo-hyun’s closest aides who had to resign from their posts of presidential secretaries after they were found to have received bribes or abused their power and influence.

To top all those scandals, a chief lawyer of Korea’s giant Samsung business group earlier this month claimed that the conglomerate runs a vast bribery network that covers the administration, the judiciary and the news media. The lawyer, Kim Yong-chul, alleged that he even bribed three high-ranking prosecutors, among others, on behalf of his company. Samsung denied Kim’s allegations and investigations are continuing at this writing.

It is highly ironical that the alleged recipients of the bribes include the man who was appointed prosecutor general by President Roh last month and a former prosecutor whom the President named in August to head the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Some say those scandals came as a shock to President Roh.

Roh and his followers described themselves as “clean and progressive” politicians. In the 1980s and 90s, they took a “holier-than-thou” attitude, waging a “struggle” against what they claimed were corrupt governments led by the army generals-turned politicians.

Once they grabbed power, however, it turned out that they are not any better—maybe worse—than their predecessors whom they so strenuously and contemptuously accused of being out-and-out corrupt leaders and government officials.

The only thing they have proven, however, is the fact that the whole country and a majority of the people, it would seem, including members of the Roh Administration, are corrupt—corrupt, indeed, to the core.

What’s more important, I am afraid, is that so many of our people have become so morally insensitive that they give and take bribes without the slightest sense of guilt.

Their way of thinking seems to be that everybody is doing it so why shouldn’t I? If you get caught in the process, you are simply unlucky. And if, in the end, you are fined or have to go to jail for a few years, you could still come out ahead financially. So after all is said and done, why not take a chance?

And all this, needless to say, has its roots in insatiable greed.

A vast majority of Koreans seem to worship money rather than God, and corruption has long been an established way of life as corporations, large or small, as well as many ordinary citizens routinely bribe government officials in order to maximize their profits or resolve their difficulties with the law.

Corruption, in fact, is so pervasive that even educators and religious clerics are not immune. Many teachers are said to accept white envelops under the table from the parents of their students while monks and ministers receive personal offerings from their flocks, presumably to put in a good word to the Almighty for them.

When the country was relatively poor in the 1950s and 60s, I thought, officials who wielded power and influence from their positions in government took bribes in order to supplement their very meager salaries. However, the habit, once formed, seemed to die hard. Actually, it never died, even after the country got rich.

Since South Korea became the world’s 12th largest economy in the 1990s, we have constantly and tirelessly talked about turning our cities into various “hubs” for Northeast Asia or even the world. But which foreign investors in their right mind would even think about building their businesses or investing in a country where officials are so corrupt that they have to be bribed every step of the way?(emphasis added)

Right now, with the presidential election less than a month away, voters are trying to select a clean and incorruptible candidate to lead the nation in the next five years. But is it possible to choose such an unblemished and perfect leader while the voters themselves are wallowing in the muddy field of corruption? I doubt it.

We also talk so much about our desire to forge South Korea into a “first-class” nation. But it is obvious that we can never achieve our goal, I’m sorry to say, with the kind of official corruption that is prevalent in third-world countries.

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  1. Seoulsearcher rocks.. I've had him on my personal roll for some time.

    I wish his blog allowed comments.

    It's a pain in the butt to have to go through yahoo to reach him...:-(

    Ewha huh? I know a couple of people over there.. good college. ;-)

    Oh yeah.. I don't think I've commented here before, but I regularly read your posts as well.

    I'm the silent majority, or something.

  2. Thanks for commenting. I'm glad to hear that you're in the "silent majority". I check my traffic and there does seem to be a silent majority. Thanks for verifying that ;)

    It seems like SeoulSearcher is an older gentleman, so there are two extremes: he might not know about comments or he might very well know about comments but doesn't want to be bothered with them. I'm going to opt for the later because he seems to be blessed with good sense.

    I know I got sick of the anonymous trolls who'd find their way to my comment link. My friend Mike over at the Metropolitician gets them on the regular, but he's also baits them more. For me, at this point my feeling is put a name or handle to what you have to say otherwise I'm not interested.

  3. My name is Chris, I am working on a law degree, I'm from the LA area, and I love and appreciate your blog! Thanks for posting Jane! And yeah, I do agree, Michael does tend to attract the most opinionated commenters but that's his style, I suppose!

  4. WHOA. So I just checked your myspace and you went to Hastings?!?! Small world. I'm a 2L there! craziness.

  5. Well, well, well...a Hastings 2L ;)

    LOL. I'm just happy that Nell Newton is the dean now. I took contracts from her way back when. You guys are lucky to have her as the dean.

    There were a lot of people from L.A. who went to school at Hastings. There is a big UCLA/UC Hastings connection too.

    Mike's tone is more confrontational. I think that has a lot to do with it. I write at length too, depending on the issue. If I go that long I'm usually good to look at it from the other side (not always, but I try.) I just think part of it is our respective writing styles. I'm also content with a more modest level of traffic. He and I were talking once and he accurately observed that I don't want a blog where people just flock 'cause everyone else is doing it. I want quality readers or none at all. Usually, I manage to get that.

  6. I agree. On both points in fact. I wasn't here pre-Nell Newton, but from what I hear from the alumni, she is a much better dean than the previous one. She lives in the Tower (which is a big statement in itself) and is always walking around and speaking with students. As for your points re: Mike, I agree also. His tone is more confrontational (the "why be critical" link prominently displayed on his homepage is a good indicator of his personality) and I'm not sure whether his feetmanseoul activities make him stick out more, but they probably attract more attention, good and bad. I love the tight knit korea you guys all get together for happy hours?

  7. "I love the tight knit korea you guys all get together for happy hours?"

    Yes, actually, sometimes the K-bloggers do get together. However, with the big gatherings Mike has yet to show up. I know him 'cause I met him through a friend when I flew home to San Francisco.

    Maybe I ought to hit up someone to organize one a winter K-blogger get together or do it myself ;)

    Anyway, now it's time for me to get to church. As usual, I'm late.


Hey there! Thanks for visiting my blog. It's my first blog, and I'm glad folks are still stopping by even though I'm no longer living in South Korea. Feel free to comment. If you want a personal answer, leave your email, and I won't publish the comment. Nasty comments and spam links will not be tolerated.