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The Political Economy of Corruption in Korea(4)


Corruption kills people; Corruption ruins the economy; Corruption violates human rights.


Joseph H. Chung (정희수), Ph.D., Professor of Economics at Quebec University in Montreal (UQAM)



(지난 호에 이어)

 Korean people believe that the very root of corruption is the Blue House (Korean White House). In other words, the upstream water is muddy. Therefore the downstream water is muddy. So, the corruption is spread throughout the society

 Under the conservative regime, the primary objective of corruption is to accumulate money.

 Man becomes slave of money; the money is above the law, above the Confucian values and even above Jesus.

 The social status is determined by money. The money determines the hierarchy of the society. The rich Chaebol chief becomes the king and his family becomes royal family. The king of kings is the head of Samsung Group. In fact, under the conservative government, Korea was called the Republic of Samsung.

 Chaebols hire former ministers of the central government to show off that they are more important than the government, demonstrate their wealth and power. These poor former ministers are fatly paid for their lobbying in favour of pro-Chaebol policies.

 The power of money has created the phenomenon of "Gap-jil" in which the rich and powerful mistreat the poor as inferior beings.

 The world may remembers the 2014 incidence of "macadamia nut" in which, the second daughter of the funder of Air Korea insulted and hit one of the personnel on board of a plane for the stupid reason for not opening the bag of nuts.

 Pastors of mega protestant churches which have an annual income of millions of USD seem to have the illusion of having become a king and abuse their money power and mistreat congregation members.

 In fact, a number of pastors have been accused of stealing church money, but they went free without being accused for the crime. The bribe money has played its role.

 In many companies, the employees are forced to do something which has nothing to do with their job descriptions.

 The perilous moral impact of the corruption of the conservative leaders is translated into the worship of money and the destruction of honesty, the decency, the integrity and the loss of mutual respect and love.


5. Fight against corruption

 If Korea remains one of the respected countries in the world for its economic performance, it is because Korean people fought back against dictatorship and corruption.

 In fact, before the Candle-Light Revolution of 2016-2017, millions of Koreans had gone down to the street and fought bravely against corrupted conservative presidents: Rhee Shygnman (19th of April 1960), Park Chung-hee (16th of October 1979), Chun Do-hwn (18th of May 1980 and the month of June 1987) .

 Finally, from late 2016 to April 2017 for eight months, 17,000,000 individuals from all walks of life went down to the frozen streets and shouted:" Impeach the Park Geun -hye! Clean the corruption!"

The Candle-Light Revolution was successful in bringing back the progressive government after nine years of destructive conservative government. And Moon Jae-in became president.

 President Moon is the third progressive presidents. The first was President Kim Dae-jung (1998-2002) and the second, President Rho Moo-hyun (2003-2008).

 President Kim Dae-jung strengthened the anti-corruption force by encouraging the unionization of labour, vitalizing existing labour unions and fostering the development of progressive civic movements. In addition, he made a major reform of Chaebols asking them to specialize, to stop the circular intra-group financing and to be more transparent in accounting.

 It was President Rho Moo-hyun who tried hard to guarantee the freedom of media and accomplish a fundamental reform of the police, the office of prosecutors, the courts and the intelligence services.

 Measures taken by President Rho were a real challenge to the community of corruption and they plotted his impeachment with fabricated reasons. He was not impeached after all. He finished his presidential term.

 However, what worried the community of corruption the most was Rho's political and ideological legacy of just society and egalitarian democracy.

 In order to kill such legacy, the conservatives fabricated fake story that the first lady, Mrs. Rho, had received an expensive watch as bribery and hid it on a rice paddy. This story continued after the take-over of power by the conservative government of Lee Myong-bak.

 The family of Rho was continuously harassed even after the retirement of Rho by the police, the conservative media and the office of prosecutors. This was a burden too heavy to endure for Rho and he killed himself.

 This episode illustrates how deeply the conservatives were involved in the corruption and why they fabricated incredible story so that they could cling to the rich deriving from corruption.

 President Moon Jae-in was President Rho's chief of cabinet and he knows very well how difficult it is to clean the corruption culture accumulated for 70 years. But, he knows very well also that unless Korea gets rid of the corruption, it is difficult to survive as a normal and healthy nation.

 President Moon has adopted the following measures to combat corruption which can be grouped into macro-measures and micro-measures.

5.1 Macro-measures anti-corruption

 Macro-measures include the North-South peace process and the improved income distribution.

 The North-South peace process has resulted in a peace situation in which North Korea no longer threats South Korea.

 We remember that the conservative governments have been able to keep power largely due to the North-South tension allowing them to create an atmosphere of fear and win elections. They have been pretending that they are better qualified to deal with North Korea perhaps because of their long tradition of police and military dictatorship.

 One of the major socio-economic policies of the Moon's government is the policy of economic growth with fair income distribution.

 Moon's government increased the minimum wage, increased the national pension, instituted income allowance for the elderly, reduced the number of weekly labour hour, revised the real estate taxes and other measured to slow down the increase of income of the rich and increase the income of the poor.

 This policy has the effect of providing a sound basis of economic growth. This policy also allows the poor to have more income and better resist corruption and "Gap-jil.) (다음 호에 계속)




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