One day later, reps vow to revise the anti-graft act

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One day later, reps vow to revise the anti-graft act

Admitting to hastiness and poor preparation, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle vowed Wednesday to revise the controversial anti-graft law they passed only one day earlier.

The National Assembly Tuesday passed tough anti-corruption legislation after years of debate despite concerns that it would surely face constitutional challenges for its vagueness and overly wide scope.

On Wednesday, even lawmakers who voted the bill into law admitted a need for revisions. “We will listen to all the voices pointing to shortfalls with a humble attitude,” said Rep. Yoo Seong-min, floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party who participated in the negotiations with the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) over the law. “During the one and a half years of grace period before it takes effect, we will make necessary modifications.” According to the law, a public official will face criminal punishment for receiving money or favors worth more than 1 million won ($912) even if they are unrelated to his or her job. Beyond bribes, entertainment like expensive meals, golf games and paid vacations is also covered by the law. A wide range of professions including civil servants, legislators, teachers at private schools and employees of media companies are covered because the law considers the nature of their work “public.” Their spouses will also be covered.

In media companies, both journalists and people in non-journalism related jobs will be covered. NPAD Rep. Lee Sang-min, chairman of the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee, called the law “unconstitutional” and “unreasonable,” promising to make speedy revisions.

“Almost all lawmakers pointed to the law’s problems and they said it seemed unconstitutional,” Lee said in an interview with CBS radio. “The scope of the law was expanded unreasonably to the media and the private sector. The law was too ambiguous and it is destined to create many innocent victims.”

Clause 2 of Article 5 of the law was particularly criticized. While the law bars anyone from seeking undue favor from a public servant, Clause 2 of Article 5 allows elected officials, political parties and civic groups to influence civil servants as long as they are conveying a third party’s complaint or proposing an improvement to serve the public good.

Lawmakers were criticized for creating a deliberate loophole in the law, and Lee agreed.

“I think it’s reasonable to criticize the fact that lawmakers voted for brutally harsh punishments on civil servants, media workers and teachers, while giving a leeway to elected officials,” Lee said.

He said it was arbitrary for the law to include media and teachers while excluding civic groups, financial institutions, defense industries, lawyers and doctors.

Although he is the chairman of the legislation commission, Lee was one of the 17 lawmakers who abstained from voting Tuesday when the law was approved by 226 lawmakers.

Only four lawmakers - Saenuri Reps. Kweon Seong-dong, Kim Yong-nam, Kim Jong-hoon and Ahn Hong-joon - voted against it.

The bill, named after Kim Young-ran, the former head of Korea’s Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission who submitted an initial draft to the legislature in June 2011, had seen almost no progress until lawmakers rushed to approve it this week.

The Korea Bar Association issued a statement Wednesday saying it will ask the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of the law. “The law violated the principle of equality by including private media in its scope,” the association said. “It also violates the void-for-vagueness doctrine.” Because lawyers are not covered by the law, the association said it will find a media worker to sponsor the suit. The government also said it will speed follow-up measures to modify the law as concerns snowballed about its constitutionality.

Chairman Lee Sung-bo of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission held a briefing Wednesday and explained the government’s plan. According to Lee, a taskforce will be created inside the commission to quickly establish various enforcement ordinances by April.

The commission will tour different regions to explain the specifics of the new law and create a manual to promote the changes.

While admitting that the law is expected to invite constitutional challenges from private schools and media companies, Lee blamed the legislature for the situation and promised to clean up the mess as much as possible.

Meanwhile, a poll conducted Wednesday showed that six out of 10 people supported the passage of the Kim Young-ran law.

According to Real Meter’s random telephone survey of 500 adults nationwide, 64 percent responded that the National Assembly did good by passing the law. Only 7.3 percent said the legislature had been wrong.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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