Existing punishments will suffice
A member of an organization is required to be loyal to that organization, whether it is a public or private group. Of course, there are always some people who seek personal gains by using their position. Unless those people are punished, an organization cannot survive. That is why the ethics code was created to enforce transparency in the workplace.
A grave violation will lead to criminal punishment. If a public servant took bribes in return for influence related to his job, both the public servant and the giver would be punished. Demanding or promising bribes is also a punishable crime. A third party or middleman involved in bribery can also be punished.
And the charges are reviewed very strictly during a trial. Whether the bribery is related to a public servant’s duty or not is interpreted very broadly, so it is rare that a public servant, who was proven to have received money, is acquitted.
When found guilty, they almost always face jail time.
And the cases are similar for other people who are not public servants because commercial bribery and breach of trust, charges often linked to influence-peddling, are also punishable and easy to prove.
And yet, a criminal punishment is the least possible legal measure. A public servant must turn down all gifts that have no reason. Public servants must avoid taking jobs related to their family members or admit to the conflict of interest and undergo an evaluation. They must turn down gifts and inform the authorities to share the information with other members of the organization.
It’s not only public servants who are required to have such an attitude. Members of the media, civic groups, schools, banks and conglomerates must all follow these rules. Families of influential people must also follow suit.
When the public is enraged by corruption and incompetence, the people want stronger measure. It is, therefore, natural for the public to support the Kim Young-ran Act, because they think organizations cannot regulate their members. Public servants often have a higher possibility of enjoying special treatment under the justification of performing the public duty.
To uphold the intentions of this law, monetary support for lawmakers must also be banned. Without it, the act is useless.
But punishing rank-and-file civil servants and their families, as well as those who are not working for the government, is excessive.
Grave violations are punished under the current law, but now disciplinary actions will be added on. Excessive punishment on a minor violation is what a democratic country must avoid.
Petitioning a public servant is a right guaranteed by the constitution. Anyone can request help from a public servant, and the public servant must take proper actions or turn it down if it is inappropriate.
But keeping records of all inappropriate petitions will be another administrative burden. This will require more public servants to be in charge of monitoring, which will increase peoples’ tax burden. Public servants will avoid contact with the public. They may try not to do their job because there is no legal duty and ground. In front of a sinking ship or a burning building, a public servant won’t have time to think about the legitimacy of a petition.
The bill has good intentions, but it does not need to be so broadly applied. Under the justification of the public’s distrust of civil servants, an authoritarian system, in which the people will spy on each other, could be created and this is worrisome.
Abnormal practices exist everywhere; we just need to find and punish them. We cannot burn down the house to go after a bedbug.
We cannot shut down the life insurance industry because there is someone who will kill for the insurance money. Just because we are concerned about corruption in officialdom, restricting the freedom of all citizens is not a wise reaction.
All systems built by men, including governments, have some flaws. Attempts to fill all the gaps will ruin the system.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a lawyer of Kim & Park Attorneys At Law.
by Kim Kwan-ki