Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Corrupt from the bottom up

Lately I've heard a few bits and pieces about corruption in Korea which is making me a bit dubious about aspects of the culture here.

The first thing was last week all the food stands that line the streets near work were missing. Occasionally one might have not been there for a day or two, but there have always been some. So the absence of all of them was notable. I found out that last week was the yearly crackdown on such food stalls around here. Apparently the stands are illegal and the people who run them don't pay all (any) of the tax they're meant to. They also apparently make payments to the local police office (it's just down the street) to make sure they look the other way.

Today in the newspaper I read about the results of number of audits of public companies (companies owned by the government). These audits showed massive inefficiency, bureaucracy increased under the guise of downsizing, huge slush funds, executive perks and more. Just before the president was sworn in, there was an investigation into allegations of corruption involving the president. There have also been investigations of big companies, with Samsung having been found to have a multi-million dollar slush fund to bribe government officials, and it is expected that many other companies follow the lead of one of Korea's biggest and most prestigious firm.

And here I am seemingly criticizing all this from my lofty perch. But I too am dirtied in all this corruption. The national pension office has a signed contract that says I work less than 80 hours a month and get paid less than I do, so that I don't have to pay into the national pension plan, which would cost me about 5% of my pay, and get a chunk of my monthly pay in cash, so that my tax records match the alleged contract, but I still get the right amount of money. Well, if I'm pissed off with the company when I leave I know what to do to get back at them. A nice anonymous email sent a month or two after I'm gone (without providing any contact details) would be a nice way to work off any lingering resentment (I don't anticipate this being the case, although if I could mess up some students, there have been a few that have really bugged me).

Anyway, the all encompassing corruption seems to be endemic in Korea. It seems to happen at all levels, and while it is occasionally punished, this almost seems likely people are being punished for being caught or for being too greedy, rather than for the actual corruption. How can the rule of law be maintained where there are illegal food stands on every street? How can the police be trusted, if they are willing to accept small bribes to overlook small crimes? How can we know that they won't take a big bribe to overlook a big crime? Such systematic corruption is ill-suited to the modern world, and should be something that is vigorously hunted down, and not accepted as part of the way things work.

End Post
Writing time: 31 minutes
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