The Korea Herald


Officials lie low under corruption watch

By Song Sangho

Published : June 22, 2011 - 19:35

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Public servants refrain from drinking, dining out, golfing

These days, the staff cafeteria of the Financial Supervisory Service is jam-packed with its employees.

They are reluctant to eat out for fear they could also be accused of corruption, as officialdom sees a spate of scandals.

“More and more of us opt to eat at the cafeteria on the 20th floor rather than going outside. Since corruption allegations erupted, we have been very careful with what we do and who we meet,” a FSS official told The Korea Herald, declining to be identified.

“Employees here also refrain from making dinner appointments. Some even have canceled their occasional department dinners. They also come to work earlier and work harder than before as we are aware of the ‘crisis’ facing our organization.”

After the government announced its plan last week to carry out a stringent, across-the-board inspection next month into corruption cases, officials appear more wary of becoming the “first case of the corruption punishment.”

Another public official said he has “indefinitely” put off playing golf with his associates as allegations surfaced that some private companies took civil servants to golf resorts in their lobbying efforts.

“Senior officials here feel uneasy (about the allegations). They don’t openly talk about it, but many of them appear to have scrapped their plans to go golfing. I myself had to postpone my own plans,” he said on condition of anonymity.

In Korea, golf has long been regarded as a luxurious sport and a good way to socialize with high-level corporate and public officials.

Under the code of conduct for civil servants, they are banned from receiving anything costing more than 30,000 won ($27.89) ― including free meals and fees at golf clubs ― from anyone related to their official duties.

The recent corruption allegations have seriously upset the public and tarnished the government’s vision of establishing a “fair society.”

The FSS has come under seething public criticism following a set of scandals involving the “lax oversight” over distressed savings banks whose suspended operations have left many depositors unable to withdraw their hard-earned money.

The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission has recently found that six public corporations used their corporate credit cards at entertainment facilities including golf resorts and karaoke bars.

The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs was hardest-hit by the corruption scandals.

Some 15 MLTM officials were found to have joined a two-day seminar in March on the resort island of Jeju where private firms lavishly treated them with alcoholic drinks and other entertainment.

A senior MLTM official has recently been arrested on charges of receiving bribes including wild ginseng worth 5 million won.

In efforts to tighten discipline in his ministry, Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Minister Kwon Do-yup said Monday that the ministry will conduct an “incognito, across-the-board” inspection into possible ethical lapses of its employees.

“To shore up discipline among employees, and prevent and root out corruption, we will reinforce our internal control system,” said Kwon during a morning meeting with 100 senior ministry officials. “If caught, they would face disadvantages in terms of promotion and other personnel policies.”

Under his special anti-corruption directives, Kwon also directed his staff to pay for their own meals and refrain from drinking too much. He also instructed them not to engage in any activities that private businesses organize with apparent business motives.

Pointing out that there should be effective measures to fundamentally stamp out corruption, some skeptical officials claimed such caution by public servants may not last long.

“Yeah, toward the tail end of each administration, there have always been such anti-corruption moves, during which we, public officials, take extreme caution,” one official said, requesting anonymity.

By Song Sang-ho (