[EDITORIALS]An unconstitutional measure?The National Assembly’s government administration committee approved an amendment to the Public Service Ethics Act that would require high-ranking civil servants to sell their stockholdings or put them into a trust. The so-called blind trust system is to prevent top civil servants from using inside information in their stock investments or having their work influence stocks.
But that does not mean that civil servants are barred from owning any stocks. Ownership of stocks unrelated to civil servants’ official duties will be allowed when a special commission decides that their holdings would not pose a conflict of interest. But how to judge the relation between civil servants’ work and stockholdings has caused controversy. Disputes are expected to continue while the amendment bill is being considered, or even after it has gone into effect.
In the case of lawmakers, for example, the bill’s drafters said lawmakers can hold stocks if the work of the committees they belong to is not related to their stockholdings. But “relevance to work” refers to “the possibility of accessing both direct and indirect information and exercising influence using the information.” That means, we believe, that lawmakers, regardless of which committees they belong to, may possess an “indirect” possibility of accessing inside information and exercising influence. They furthermore have the right to participate in the process of drafting and voting on bills, and that is considered “direct” access to information. Also, their participation in their party’s representatives’ meeting, where they participate in drafting and fine tuning various laws, provides “direct” access to information.
The same applies to cabinet ministers, who can easily learn about the work of other government bodies while attending cabinet meetings.
The controversy over “work relevance” will likely continue. So, political judgment and conspiracy theories can intervene. We do not believe it is necessary to force civil servants to sell their stocks. How can we sort out unconstitutional elements in the bill that infringe upon individuals’ rights to own property? Actually, the bill removed the clause limiting civil servants’ ownership of real estate because of its unconstitutionality. We believe it would be a rational choice if civil servants are barred only from trading stocks and exercising voting rights on the stocks they hold.