Monday, May 25, 2009

Complexities of handling corruption in Asia

Suicide committed by South Korea's former president Roh Moo-hyun points to socio-political complexities involved in addressing high-level corruption in Asia. Roh, who was being tried, and was facing a potential arrest over bribery charges, has suddenly become a national hero garnering sympathy from the man on the street.
Roh's suicidal death has created nationwide waves of anger among the opposition parties and Roh's supporters. They are blaming the conservative government headed by president Lee Myung-bak for Roh's death. They say that the government treated Roh harshly which pushed him to commit suicide.
Roh had won the presidency in 2002 on the promised agenda of cleaning up the government of corruption. In fact, he later took pride in claiming that his government was one of the cleanest in South Korea's history.
But he lost elections to Lee last year and himself came under investigations for bribery. Damaging details of the investigation were fed in to the local media on daily basis. The local media, which operates like a powerful cartel, has little regard for the former president as he unsuccessfully tried to break media cartels during his reign.
The result was a total loss of face for Roh. Found guilty of corruption, his brother is already serving a jail term. His other family members, including his wife, are under investigation. In fact, earlier this year, Roh publicly apologised for his involvement in a bribery case.
The loss of face is the most terrible thing to happen to someone in Asia. Roh perhaps found the humiliation too much to live with. And decided to end his life.
Now the tables have been turned. The backlash against the current administration is so threatening that President Lee's government is planning a state funeral for Roh in an attempt to control damage from anti-government protests.
In Asia, high-level corruption invariably involves high-level politicians and bureacrates. Many of these politicians belong to powerful political dynasties. They enjoy unprecedented privileges and luxuries of life. South Korea's powerful business heads, called Chaebols, are usually at the centre of large corruption scandals. Regulators rarely touch these big-wigs, irrespective of who is in power. But when any administration does so, the issue can transform into a socio-political crisis as is happening in South Korea.

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