By: Jun Ji-hye

The government plans to introduce a defense project supervisor next year as part of measures to root out diehard corruption in the defense industry.

It will also toughen sanctions against defense contractors involved in corruption, banning them from participating in bidding for arms deals for up to two years.

These were included in a set of measures jointly announced Thursday by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of National Defense and the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) to ensure fair and transparent arms deals.

A defense project supervisor would be a director-level post, directly under the DAPA head. A legal expert such as an incumbent prosecutor or an auditor from the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) is likely to be appointed to the post.

“The supervisor will examine legal aspects during major phases of a defense project such as the assessment of proposals and purchase decisions,” the government said in a release. “The supervisor will have the authority to collect information on suspicious projects and request investigations.”

The task force will also beef up personnel in charge of audits at DAPA after accepting criticism that the 12 officials now employed are not enough to inspect DAPA’s ongoing 445 defense projects worth 11 trillion won.

The government has been making a significant effort to end rampant defense corruption since last year, which President Park Geun-hye called an act harming national security and benefiting the enemy.

The prosecution has been carrying out a large-scale investigation into a variety of corruption cases in defense industries since November.

Mindful of the argument that most of corruption cases resulted from cozy relations between the military and defense contractors, the task force also decided to restrict ex-servicemen and retired DAPA officials from being employed by defense contractors until five years after their retirement. Such employment is now restricted for three years from their retirement.

Such a measure is to prevent defense industries from employing retired soldiers and officials to use their networks and influence in the bidding to win large-scale contracts.

Sanctions against firms involved in corruption will be strengthened as well. The government will be able to not only get these ill-gotten gains back, but also impose large fines, officials said.

However, skepticism still abounds about whether the government can eradicate the sources of widespread defense corruption.

A government official said, “Those announced today were just primary measures to be implemented beginning next year. We will announce overall countermeasures after the prosecution announces its final results of the investigation.”

One of the most well-known cases involving defense corruption was the DAPA’s dubious choice of a supplier of an outdated sonar system for the first domestic-made rescue and salvage ship, the 3,500-ton Tongyeong, in January 2009.

Former Chief of Naval Operations Hwang Ki-chul was arrested in March on charges of influence peddling to push for a purchase agreement with the supplier even before DAPA secured the proper evaluation data. At the time, he was serving as head of the department in charge of the vessel project at the agency.

SOURCE: THE KOREA TIMES