A chance for transparency
After the anti-corruption bill was approved by the National Policy Committee in the legislature, the mood among government officials was tense. Although the lawmakers changed the drafted bill to take out the clause that could be seen as a conflict of interest, the law has been expanded to cover private schools, the media and kindergartens. The bill is intended to uphold the original intentions of the Kim Young-ran Act.
Until now, public servants were punished for bribery under the criminal system. In this case, a bribery charge can only be proven when the bribe is in return for a favor linked to the public servant’s job. Under the new anti-corruption law, receiving bribes in return for influence is prohibited not only for the public servants but also people who work at private schools, in the media and in kindergartens. Criminal punishments will be handed down even if the bribe is not related to the receiver’s job.
This is different from the current criminal code, but the people want a stronger law to improve the transparency of our society and the competitiveness of our country.
Expanding the scope of bribery charges for public servants will help maintain fairness in their job performance. Under the current law, public servants are only punished when they received bribes in return for favors linked to their jobs. Therefore, many cases went unpunished and it became common practice for a public servant to receive bribes, raising questions about fairness in their jobs. Public distrust of officialdom also amplified.
It is clear that punishments under the Kim Young-ran Act are not the same as in the current criminal justice system and there will be some confusion for a significant period of time. But we need this law.
Transparency International in December scored Korea 55 out of 100 on its transparency survey. This placed the country 27th among the 34 members in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
It is generally understood that a country with higher transparency has fewer impoverished citizens and that the people enjoy more evenly distributed wealth. Transparency is a way of measuring a country’s competitiveness.
The Philippines, which was the second-largest economy in Asia in the 1960s, has lost its power because of its corrupt public servants. This is a classic example of how transparency affects a country’s development.
Some argue that the new law is too broad, but it is necessary because a public servant’s duty is to do the right thing. Some said they disagree with the law because it is ambiguous. But as long as the law can be applied based on common sense, it won’t be a problem. Creating a perfect law that is so clear that there will be no controversy is impossible.
Other lawmakers have said the law’s coverage is so broad that anyone could be considered a criminal under it, but that is also nonsense. The penal code actually covers the entire population, so it has a larger coverage than the Kim Young-ran Act.
Some said that if the bill passes, public servants will be intimidated and they won’t work hard. But the attitude of public servants is a long-standing issue, not a new problem that would be caused by the Kim Young-ran Act.
Some said that preventing public servants from employing and or giving gifts to their family members is like making their family “guilty by association.” But a public servant cannot protect his transparency without his or her family. More specific clauses should be created for the families to resolve this issue.
Korean society has been shaken by corruption and irregularities. Whenever a major disaster takes place, a cozy relation with a public servant is revealed as one cause. The law should be revised to secure the transparency of public servants so that we can have an opportunity to build a healthier country.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a lawyer and professor of Hanyang University Law School.
by Kim Jung-beom