Getting rid of corruption in Korea

If someone asks me what the most urgent problem in Korea is, I would say that it is corruption. According to the recent report on corruption in Asia from Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), Korea turned out to be the worst country with respect to the problem of corruption among developed countries in Asia.

In the report, the corruption index for Korea is three times worse than those of Singapore, Japan, Australia, and Hong Kong. Countries graded worse than Korea are India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, and China.

Especially, Koreans tend to tolerate corruption in business and government as if an old habit, and its punishment for corruption usually ends up being just a slap on the wrist. As a result, Korea received the dishonor of being the second worst country for corporate corruption in Asia in that respect.

The report says that the roots of corruption in Korea have reached the top levels of the country’s government and business.

A more serious problem is that the practice of corruption has crossed borders: business corruption in overseas projects of Korean companies is beyond description and corruption in events organized by government offices overseas is the worst it has been in the past 10 years.

This means that cross-border corruption of Korea is getting worse. The report predicts that, if this continues, Korea will be internationally labeled as a country of corruption, which will lower its international standing and lead to the collapse of its economy. This is a real embarrassment.

There is also research showing that for every one-point reduction for a country in the Corruption Perceptions Index, which is published by Transparency International, its GDP per capita increases by 2.64 percent.

These days in Korea, businesses are complaining about its loss of efficiency as it cannot have sufficient air-conditioning, despite the worst heat wave in our country, due to the shortage of electricity.

This shortage was caused by the corruption of government officials that led to using defective parts in the construction of power plants.

Miraculous economic growth was possible in Singapore, since the country carried out anti-corruption measures on a full scale.

The Xi Jinping government of China also declared its resolution to eradicate corruption among government officials, saying that it would not be afraid of using even the death penalty in corruption cases.

Another problem in Korea, as serious as corruption, is the rate of crime. The crime rate is much higher than the average crime rate of OECD countries. While crime rates in OECD members have been falling, Korea’s has continued to rise.

According to a report from the Korea Development Institute, Korea has the third highest homicide rate among the 29 OECD countries, and has crime rates in theft, fraud, and sexual violence that are twice as high as those of other developed countries.

While heinous crimes have fallen in other OECD countries since 2000, heinous crimes like homicide, robbery and theft have increased four-fold in Korea from 7,300 cases in 1980 to 27,500 in 2010.

Mass food poisoning from contaminated ingredients supplied for school meals frequently occurs in elementary schools. Recently, there was a gruesome case where a policeman on active duty killed a pregnant woman with whom he had an extramarital relationship and disposed of the corpse. It is sad how Korea has become a country full of heinous crimes like these.

I think that President Park Geun-hye made a great decision not to follow the tradition of granting special pardons on Aug. 15, Liberation Day. The amnesty of one million people by the previous Lee administration surprised the world. I cannot understand why it is necessary to send criminals to prison through litigation wasting tax money if the President pardons one million of them.

People say that those who are well-connected will be pardoned through the Christmas amnesty, or the March 1 amnesty, if not through the Aug. 15 amnesty, and those people wait for their pardons in luxurious patient rooms of hospitals with illness as their excuse.

Because of situations like these, those of the privileged class act as if they are above the law, and laugh at, for example, their five-year sentences, thinking that they will be released in six months. What kind of legal system is this?

I have no doubt that President Park will put an end to this international embarrassment caused by corruption and rising crime. She has shown her strong leadership toward North Korea. I believe these corruption and crime reports are somewhat exaggerated.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon U.S.-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at


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