[EDITORIALS]Overstaying RegulatorLee Nam-kee, chairman of the Fair Trade Commission, may have served too long as a commissioner of the anti-monopoly watchdog, exceeding the term of office stipulated by law. Before the Fair Trade Law was revised in January, Section 39 of the law provided that a commissioner of the Fair Trade Commission serves for up to three years and can be retained for another three-year term. But Mr. Lee has served since 1993, first as a commissioner, then as vice chairman and then as chairman. That is illegal, the opposition Grand National Party said. According to the party, the revised law, which now allows separate terms of office for the three positions, does not apply retroactively to Mr. Lee's case.
The Fair Trade Commission said that Mr. Lee did not serve continuously as commissioner, but was newly appointed in 1998. According to the commission, when Mr. Lee was promoted to vice chairman, a vice minister-level job, in August, 1998, he first resigned as commissioner to take the post. The Civil Service Commission, which examined the case in September 1999, said that the answer depended on the interpretation of the law by the Fair Trade Commission, and that it respected the opinion of the anti-monopoly institution. But it is wrong that the commission interprets and applies law sections "flexibly" in accordance with its interest. According to Subsection 1 of Section 37 of the Fair Trade Law, the commission is composed of nine commissioners, including one chairman and one vice chairman. According to Section 38, the chairman represents the commission and there are no separate provisions for the term of chairman. It seems rational that the term of commissioner applied to the term of chairman, before the revision.
If the commission is too generous to itself, while being stern with companies, checking most trivial unfair trade practices to impose penalties or to report them to the prosecutor, who will believe in the fairness of the commission and trust the law? There is also reason to suspect that the commission was doing someone a personal favor when it asked for a revision of the law in January. Recently the status of the Fair Trade Commission started to deteriorate, especially with its involvement in some "non-economic" issues. The scandal of Mr. Lee's term of office will further aggravate the commission's reputation. He is the one responsible for all this.