Saturday, April 22, 2006

Developing Democracy

It is not certain where people get the idea that a democracy should lead to a corruption free society. An open and fair system of government should be able to develop sufficient checks and balances to ensure that corruption is detected. Such a system is typically going to be in the form of a democracy as 'the people' would be less likely to tolerate and would be in a position to enforce higher standards on public officials. However, like crime, even though the likelihood of being caught is usually a good deterrent it is never going to be enough to completely stop crime. Ditto checks and balances stopping corruption.

South Korea, as a 'developing democracy' has its fair share of corruption. To get a good idea of this topic I highly recommend a visit to Flying Yangban to check out his coverage of the upcoming local elections. The focus on such cases in Korea is due to stringent efforts to expose and stop corruption - as part of becoming a stronger democracy. Not surprisingly the modern day public official is being all sulky about the wave of public outrage regarding their behaviour. The linked article notes that:
Analysts say many government and business figures feel unfairly targeted because they are now being punished for practices that were common.
Certainly corrupt behaviour needs to be nipped in the bud and the Korean outcries are a good sign that in the future corruption may indeed be reduced.

But it seems that in Korea, there is a trend to over-zealousness. The resignation of a the PM for playing golf is good case in point. Koreans seem to equate golf with elitism but playing golf on a holiday is not unreasonable behaviour. As Professor Jong-ryn Mo, whom I know from my Stanford days and admire greatly, notes in the FT article:
"We are looking at the last vestiges of the old system," says Mo Jong-ryn, a politics professor at Yonsei University. "These days you can't even get a promotion if you've got a drink-driving conviction. I can't think of any other country where standards are so high - can you imagine the prime minister of a European country having to resign for playing golf on a holiday?"
We all know the famous scene from Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 when Bush made a serious comment about Al-Qaeda and panned out to show that he was in the middle of playing golf. Playing golf when they should be working may show be sloppy but its not 'corrupt' and it should not lead to resignation.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the recent corruption scandals it seems that Korea is on the right path. But it is critical to remember before criticising Korea for its corrupt society that other countries, though they might have a long history of democracy, pride themselves of their checks and balances, or just think they are honest systems still face a constant fight against corruption and always will. Koreans and outside observers should keep this in mind and not hold Korea to an impossible standard.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui