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[Editorial] Corruption virus

Kim Young-ran, chairwoman of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, cautioned everyone of the nation to guard against “the virus of corruption.” Upon her inauguration this week, the former Supreme Court justice observed that corruption was still a chronic malady in our society, although it seems fairly weakened.

The new head of the corruption watchdog will now see for herself how the virus works in every sector as she carries on her job. And she had better be prepared of surprise at the depth and pervasiveness of the illness not only in government offices but in business, politics, education, entertainment, religion and the arts. If these areas are not all her official responsibility, her organization needs at least to expose the hidden practices for social awareness.

Every day, newspapers carry stories of corruption, disappointing many people who want to believe that improvements have been made in social cleanness over the years. The head of a county in South Chungcheong Province has been arrested for receiving apartments from local contractors, the mayor of a port city in South Jeolla has surrendered to the authorities after hiding for months to avoid arrest on a huge bribery case, and a senior prosecutor has been charged with accepting a Grandeur sedan from a businessman friend in return for helping him in a criminal case, and so on.

One latest story has it that the Bureau of Audit and Inspection has passed to the Blue House and other concerned offices a list of senior central government officials who visited Kangwon Land casino in Jeongseon more than 60 times in the second half of last year. An assistant minister-level official who was given a temporary duty in a province is said to have visited the casino 180 times since January last year and another official spent up to 2 billion won ($1.8 million) at the gambling house, according to Yonhap News.

These cases tell that corruption is deep and even banal in our officialdom but the government’s anti-corruption drive looks rather loosened these days perhaps because the administration has other priorities such as economic recovery and defense buildup. The six-month vacancy of the head of the ACCRC after the resignation of former chairman Lee Jae-oh to run in a parliamentary by-election may indicate a lack of government enthusiasm in this direction.

The creation in 2008 of the ACCRC through the merger of the former Korea Independent Commission against Corruption with two other government bodies responsible for the treatment of administrative complaints could also have caused a relative weakening of the anti-corruption function in the new organization. The ACCRC Law says that its primary mission is to establish and implement policies for the protection of civil rights and prevention of corruption.

Korea ranked 39th among 178 countries of the world in the CPI (corruption perceptions index) announced by Berlin-based Transparency International last year with 5.4 points out of possible 10. That Italy ranked 67th, China 78th and Russia 154th may offer some consolation, but the nation needs steady and strenuous efforts to eradicate corruption, hopefully spearheaded by the anti-corruption body under the new leadership of Kim Young-ran.
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