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[Editorial] Eradicating corruption

[Editorial] Eradicating corruption

Crackdown must focus on public sector

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Published : 2013-12-10 19:45
Updated : 2013-12-10 19:45

A local court last week handed down heavy sentences on a dozen officials involved in fudging test certificates for parts used in nuclear power plants. Several other senior officials, including a former vice minister of industry and an ex-chief of the state-run nuclear power plant operator, await sentencing for allegedly receiving bribes from parts suppliers. Experts estimate that the shutdown of the nuclear power stations that used substandard parts have incurred a loss of 9.95 trillion won ($9.4 billion).

With these corruption cases having become almost routine news here, few Koreans appear perplexed with their country’s poor standing in the 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index issued by the Berlin-based nongovernmental organization Transparency International last week.

Korea fell by one notch to rank 46th among 177 nations on the CPI list. Since placing 39th in 2010, the country has seen its ranking fall by seven notches in three years. Among the 34 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Korea ranked near the bottom at 27th this year, unchanged from the previous two years.

Most people here would not have been surprised even if their country had gone further down in the list. Denmark and New Zealand were tied for the top spot as the world’s least corrupt nations by scoring 91 out of 100, compared to 55 for Korea.

The public’s deepening concern about widespread corruption in Korean society was mirrored in the outcome of a survey published by a local research institute last Friday. More than 30 percent of the 2,000 adult respondents cited eradicating corruption and unjustified privileges as the most urgent work needed to achieve social integration, while 23.9 percent and 11.5 percent prioritized political stability and economic growth, respectively.

Korea’s low CPI ranking is unfit and embarrassing for a country that has grown into the world’s 15th-largest economy and seventh-biggest exporter. Eradicating corruption and boosting transparency are essential to Korea becoming a truly advanced nation.

Efforts should focus particularly on cracking down on corruption in the public sector. It is deplorable that public servants accounted for more than 70 percent of those arrested by police during a 100-day anticorruption campaign that started in August.

President Park Geun-hye emphasized the need to root out corruption when she gave letters of appointment to the new heads of the state audit board and the prosecution early this month. But she should demonstrate her determination not with words but with unequivocal actions. It was too lenient a measure that an official at the presidential office was just sent back to the ministry he originally belonged to without being disciplined for receiving gift cards and other benefits from private companies.

With the country’s existing law enforcement agencies having lost public trust due to bribery and other misconduct involving their officials, serious consideration should be given to establishing an independent anticorruption organization with substantial investigative power. Stricter rules must be implemented to bar senior government officials from landing jobs at private companies and other institutions related to their work before retirement. A renewed civil movement may also need to be launched to strengthen momentum toward fighting off corruption and setting up clean governance.

With the first year of her five-year presidency drawing to an end, Park may feel further pressed to improve economic growth, social welfare and security. But it will be another precious achievement if the international corruption awareness of the country improves when she leaves office.

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