A problematic bill

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A problematic bill

The ruling and opposition parties will likely pass an act aimed at banning solicitations and bribes as early as Thursday. The core idea of the so-called Kim Young-ran Act is to overcome the weakness of current laws, which cannot punish the act of receiving a bribe — no matter how large it is — if the prosecution cannot prove that the money was offered in return for a favor. Given the shabby status of the
integrity of our officialdom, the bill must be passed for Korea to move forward.

But this particular bill has many problems. First of all, elected officials, including lawmakers, and political parties and civic groups could evade the law even if they are being corrupt — thanks to an exceptional clause that exempts them from criminal punishment “when a third party offers bribes for the public good.” Kim Young-ran, then-chairwoman of the Anti-corruption and Civil Rights Commission, underscored that our civil servants face a crisis of trust due to a series of corruption scandals. She made it clear that the act targets civil servants like
legislators and government employees who receive pay from the government for their work.

In the run-up to the submission of the act to the National Assembly, however, lawmakers attempted to exclude elected officials from the target group, which constitutes a classic example of protecting self-interest.

Another problem is the inclusion of the faculties of private schools and journalists. No doubt the press is required to have high moral standards. Yet compelling them to be honest with a law is a totally different matter as the media is a private enterprise, not a public one. And journalists need a maximum amount of freedom to satisfy the people’s right to know. Journalistic corruption can be punished
by their internal codes of ethics and other existing laws. As seen in a public hearing by the Legislation and Judiciary Committee of the Assembly, the inclusion of journalists could lead to a severe suppression of the freedom of speech by state authorities.

There’s another problem, too. If the act is passed by the legislature, it will most likely face a constitutional challenge. If the law is ruled constitutional by the Constitutional Court, political circles and officialdom will be as happy as anybody else, and if the law is ruled unconstitutional, they would be glad because it will be easier to control the press — a nothing-to-lose game.

Both parties must rethink the bill. They have to change the target group by removing any unconstitutional element from the act and redraft it to target civil servants alone as originally intended.

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