Shame on Officialdom
By Kim Ji-soo
The global financial panic looming over every corner of the world is eroding people's patience, including mine.
Admittedly, I would not call myself one of the most patient people in the world. But some of the developments taking place in our public sector are becoming the main target of my short fuse.
When I mention the public sector, I am referring to those in public service and figures who are in the public light. Perhaps it's not fair to hold those in public service or figures in the public light to a higher standard for their actions.
But when a person commits to public service, it means they will serve the public; it means they know it entails a higher level of morals and integrity in doing their jobs. Thus, the latest controversy over a number of government officials, incumbent lawmakers and journalists receiving government-subsidies meant to go to real farmers is appalling.
The government has been providing a subsidy to small-income rice producers since the wider opening of the rice market in 2005. The owners of rice paddies can receive the subsidy only when they actually produce rice, otherwise the money should be given to tenant farmers who actually grow the rice.
According to the Board of Audit and Inspection, 170,000 of the 998,000 people who received the subsidies in 2006 were not farmers. Of them, about 40,000 were listed as civil servants, while 6,200 others were employees of public corporations. Non-farmers received 168.3 billion won ($135.7 million) in 2006, more than 10 percent of the total rice subsidy of 1.62 trillion won given that year.
They have their reasons or rather excuses. A few lawmakers whose names have been made public said that they inherited the land from their parents, which are now being sowed by their parents and that they were not aware of the exact nature of the money. The law and regulations governing the rice subsidy had loopholes that allowed this kind of behavior, but it's the speculative pursuit of wealth that has pushed a lot of city-dwelling people to seek this subsidy.
The warring governing and opposition parties have finally agreed to a parliamentary investigation to get to the bottom of this matter. On Tuesday, 12 senior ranking officials at the Board of Audit and Inspections tendered their resignations to their chief, BAI Chairman Kim Hwang-sik, taking ``moral'' responsibility for having found out about unqualified subsidy recipients last year but not making it public.
As Korea strives continuously to be a more advanced country, you wish that at least those in public service have some scruples that they adhere to. But sadly, it's hard to shake off the feeling that holding a public office job is largely interpreted as having secured speedier access to information and a better channel to decision makers who can, ― and will ― overturn an economically rational decision for his or her political purposes.