Sunday, February 01, 2004

Corrupt or just poor - considerations for Korean politics

This is not yet a well enough formed argument in my head to be too firm but I've been thinking about the issue of corruption in politics. It was raised by a professor here that it is not fair to bad mouth Korean corruption practices in the context that you get what you pay for. Koreans have too strict restrictions on the activities of their politicians while the demands on what they should accomplish becomes unrealistic. If you don't pay them or don't allow them legal means to raise sufficient money to support the works of campaigning, etc then you could expect them to become corrupt.

In the past, the civil officials were 'wise men' given great power to direct the nation as they knew best. But in more recent times, they get little money, little power in a highly centralised system, and little room to do anything. They get no respect and are treated as cheats who are likely to be corrupt so what incentive do they have to become better people or prove the stereotype wrong.

For example, we complain about politicians taking bribes,etc in Korea but the rules for contributions to parties seem to be well short of what US parties/individuals are allowed to collect. Ceilings on Supporter Contribution by an individual to a central party is W100,000,000 or less and for corporations it is W200,000,000 or less, which is rouglhy US$86,000 for individuals and US$171,000. For District Party, Nat'1 Assemblyman, Candidate for Nat'1 Assembly its W20,000,000 (US$17,000) or less for individual contrbutions and W50,000,000 (US$43,000) or less.

Now, I'm not expert on US campaign finance but I think they have contributions that are not limited in this way, or some loopholes exist regaring 'soft money'. So are Korean politicians really more corrupt than counterparts in other countries or are they just doing what other politicians are allowed to do in other countries?

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui