It‘s corruption, stupid
Time has long past to stop five-year scandals
During the past four years, the prefix to Park Young-joon, one of the closest confidants to President Lee Myung-bak, was ``king.” While Park was working in Cheong Wa Dae, he was the ``king secretary”. When he moved to the government, officials called him ``king vice minister.”
So the prosecution’s arrest of Park Monday on charges of taking 170 million won ($150,000) in bribes from a construction company signifies two things. First, the reign of the President ― the emperor above the king ― has entered its final year. Second, Lee is following the same path all of his predecessors have to become another ``failed” President.
There are differences, however. Former Presidents formally apologized for irregularities committed by their aides and family members, and called for thorough investigations and disciplining. Lee has not yet done so.
Recently the prosecution is also not what it once was. State prosecutors, who used to pull no punches when probing the sons of sitting presidents, have been become lambs during the current administration. So they made little effort to visit the residence of the National Assembly speaker for questioning, and even the investigation into President Lee’s own son consisted of just a questionnaire.
Already, they are showing signs of wrapping up Park’s bribe-taking case early, saying their probe has reached the final stage.
They must not do so, and President Lee must tell them not to.
Most Koreans suspect the $150,000 bribe is just the tip of the iceberg, given Park was involved in almost all influence-peddling scandals of this administration, including dubious diamond mining in Cameroon. He has survived them all unscathed. They know from experience that Park’s irregularities might go far beyond the simple receipt of the relatively small-sum bribe, punishable by just the fines of 10 million won or less than five years in jail.
There are at least three reasons President Lee must clear up the mess made by his cronies before leaving the Blue House. First, Lee should take the moral responsibility for mismanaging his men; second, some money of dubious origin has allegedly been spent on his election campaign four-and-a-half years ago; third, the President himself is under suspicion of involvement in some cases, or at least being aware of them. Koreans are sick and tired of watching former leaders go to jail or even committing suicide. The probe into Park should be its beginning, not ending, phase.
In a normal country, no political party can expect to remain in power after all these egregious acts of corruption, even after rebranding themselves with new names. If the ruling Saenuri wins the presidential election in December with not so much as Lee’s offering repentance and housecleaning, the whole nation will need to undergo serious soul-searching.
Whoever becomes the new leader, he or she must begin with a reexamination of the state governance system from the ground up by, for instance, dispersing the power of imperial presidency, ensuring the prosecution’s independence from President, and activating an agency exclusively responsible for monitoring leaders’ aides and family members.
Lee vowed to elevate Korea to the level of the G7 economic group. However, many Koreans worry their country has fallen to the level of a potential G7 nation dogged by corruption.