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When Lee Young-ja needed water in her new building, it took about $5,000 in bribes to get the job done.

Lee first had to hand out money so city officials would ignore a government regulation that bans digging into a road within two years after it is paved.That was only the beginning. She had to pay bribes ranging from $100 to $3,000 to obtain permits, have utilities installed and make sure the work was completed. All told, city officials were about $5,000 richer by the time water was flowing into the shops and offices in her building.

Payoffs have seeped into every part of Korean life, creating a gigantic network of palm-greasing that requires millions, perhaps billions, of dollars annually just to get things done.

Police commonly accept money to overlook traffic violations. Parents give teachers money to get more attention for their children. Bankers accept payoffs for favorable loans, political influence peddling is rampant, and reporters are paid off by news sources they cover.

The new government of President Kim Young-sam has launched a much-publicized war against corruption, but bribery is so endemic that many people feel it cannot be brought under control.

"They took money after money and were never satisfied," Lee said. "Corruption is so widespread and intrinsic to Korean society that it may take 100 or 200 years to root it out."

Newspaper columnist Yoo Kun-il campaigns against payoffs and claims bureaucratic corruption is most serious. The target of a recent column was an unnamed provincial official who charged the government three times the price for heating fuel his office used.

The official was able to submit inflated bills for 10 years because his superiors connived, Yoo charged.

"The case is common and the tip of an iceberg," Yoo said. "Corruption is all over our body and up to our brain."

An end to pervasive corruption, especially in officialdom, is a keynote of the new government's reform policy.