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(News Focus) Lee tightening discipline in officialdom amid series of corruption cases

All Headlines 17:26 June 16, 2011

SEOUL, June 16 (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak is tightening discipline among bureaucrats amid a series of revelations of corruption cases, signaling a massive clean-up drive ahead of his final year in office.

Hardly a single day has passed in recent weeks without newspapers splashing stories of fresh cases involving government officials across their pages, including those on former Lee aides suspected of wrongdoing in a massive influence-peddling scandal involving savings banks.

These cases were a direct blow to the "fair society" campaign that Lee has been spearheading since last year to strengthen his image as a leader who cares for lower-income people. The campaign has been an underlying motto of the second half of Lee's five-year term in office that ends in early 2013.

"The people may think that our society has reached the limit" in terms of corruption, Lee was quoted as saying by aides during a Cabinet meeting earlier this week. Lee also made remarks to the effect that corruption is so widespread in officialdom that something must be done about it, sources said.

Sources said that Lee has instructed aides to strengthen anti-corruption inspections and preventive measures.

"Cheong Wa Dae cannot but be at the center of a discipline-tightening drive," an aide said, referring to the presidential office. "Audit agencies voluntarily uncovering a series of corruption cases of this administration this year reflect the president's intentions."

The anti-corruption drive appears to be based on the perception that unless something is done about the situation, Lee's grip on power could slip, making him an early lame duck as the nation goes into election mode next year.

Both parliamentary and presidential elections are set for next year.

Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik has also called for stricter discipline in officialdom, instructing the government to conduct thorough inspections into possible work-related corruption by public officials, stressing that improper acts or corruption by an individual civil servant could damage public trust in the government.

These moves touched off speculation that the government is gearing up for a massive corruption clean-up drive. But presidential officials said they were also trying to ensure that the drive does not dampen the morale of public officials.

"We're now at the stage where we're studying seriously," senior presidential spokesman Kim Du-woo told reporters. "There are some specifics under consideration, but it is inappropriate to make them public now. We're gathering consensus on this."

Kim said that government officials have worked hard under President Lee and their morale should be boosted.

"We're studying seriously to find a compromise between tightening discipline and boosting their morale," he said.

Revelations of the recent series of corruption cases began with the savings banks scandal earlier this year. It centers on corrupt savings banks seeking the influence of high-level politicians and senior officials in exchange for bribes in an attempt to avoid punishment for extending illegal loans and a string of other irregularities.

A series of officials, including financial regulators, have been arrested in the scandal.

Other corruption cases include bribe-taking by a senior official who handles real estate policies or government agencies twisting the arms of private firms under their supervision to sponsor large parties and drinking sessions.


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