Stricter penalties for graft in Ethics Law revision

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Stricter penalties for graft in Ethics Law revision

The National Assembly passed a revision to the Civil Service Ethics Law during a Tuesday voting session as part of efforts to prevent corrupt connections between government officials and private business owners and implement more severe punishments for violators.

The collusive culture between public and private sectors has been cited as one of the fundamental causes that led to the Sewol sinking earlier this year. The revision plan was passed 196 to 12. Ten abstained. With the bill’s passage, the parliament on Tuesday ended its 100-day regular session.

Under the revision, retiring government officials will be banned from seeking re-employment in the private sector for three years, a one-year increase from the current two-year ban.

The revision also extends the scope of firms from which retired civil servants will be prohibited - state-owned companies in the private sector, private higher education institutions and non-profit organizations that run hospitals.

Previously, former bureaucrats were only banned from working for private companies. The revision also requires former civil servants with legal and accounting licenses - who were not previously barred from seeking reemployment at law or accounting firms - to undergo an employment review by authorities.

Now by law, a public service ethics review commission will be required to publicly reveal its assessments on those former government officials.

In addition, the revised bill toughens the level of punishment for violators, who could now face up to two years in prison or a 20 million won ($18,000) fine. That’s up from the previous two-year jail term or 10 million won penalty.

The bipartisan passage of the bill Tuesday came eight months after the April 16 Sewol ferry sinking, which left 304 passengers dead and became the country’s worst maritime disaster in peacetime history.

The collusive culture between government officials and business owners - which gave rise to the term “gwanfia,” a portmanteau of the Korean word for officials, gwalyo, and mafia - is cited as one of the primary reasons behind the accident. A probe into the incident showed that safety inspectors in charge of the doomed ferry overlooked that it was overloaded with cargo, which caused the vessel to list and then sink in waters off South Jeolla.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@jooangang.co.kr ]



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