[EDITORIALS]When legislators hold stockKim Hyo-seuk, a member of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party, sold off all the stocks owned by himself, his wife and children. The event was refreshing, and so was his explanation that he intended to live up to the strict ethical standards required of a government official. Kim Gwang-lim, the vice minister of finance, reportedly disposed of stocks owned by his wife. The two men’s decisions should be highly appreciated as steps to promote transparency in public office.
People say that indifference to ethics in our society already has reached its peak, but when the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy looked into lawmakers’ stock holdings last month, the public suffered another blow. Nearly half the former and current legislators belonging to economic standing committees in the Assembly bought stocks under their wives’ names, and other legislators invested in stocks related to their committee assignments.
Taking advantage of their status as legislators to invest in stocks is obviously unfair. Of course, the simple holding or trading of stocks by high-ranking officials cannot be treated as unethical. But there are a number of ways to use the privileges of a standing committee member in stock investments. Moreover, it is difficult to dismiss the possibility that these lawmakers could influence economic policy to their advantage, and to the disadvantage of the national economy. A high-ranking official’s plea that individual investments pose no problems is flawed.
In developed countries like the United States, rules to prevent conflicts of interest are strictly applied to encourage officials to straighten things out. We do not have such measures, and moreover, both the ruling and opposition parties traditionally favor specialty in assigning standing committee members when specialty and interest collide.
Some legislators and the civic group submitted a bill to entrust officials’ stockholdings to trust companies while they are in office. This change should be implemented quickly. Officials who have been in the middle of the controversy should dispose of their own holdings before the proposed bill is enacted.