Remove the flawsA day after the so-called Kim Young-ran Act — a bill aimed at banning illegal solicitations and bribes — passed the National Assembly by an overwhelming margin Tuesday, there are growing calls for a substantial revision of the law. The ruling Saenuri Party’s floor leader Yoo Seong-min said Wednesday that he will close potential loopholes in the law over the next 18 months after humbly listening to complaints.
Lee Sang-min, chairman of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, joined the chorus by underscoring the need to amend problematic clauses in the law after public debates.
The anti-corruption law is essential for Korea to upgrade its low level of integrity — one of the lowest among the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. However, the scope and degree of punishment should be clear and the clauses of the law must be compatible with other existing laws including the Criminal Law. In order for the law to be effective, such problems should be fixed before the law comes into force in October 2016.
First of all, the inclusion of journalists and teachers at private schools in the target group leaves much room for unconstitutionality as they are not civil servants at all. A considerable number of legal experts agree that’s unconstitutional. Meanwhile, elected officials, including legislators, and those working for political parties could evade the anticorruption law thanks to a clause listing exceptional circumstances. Those elected officials should be included in the target group as originally intended by the law.
A bigger problem is that the punishments are overly broad and ambiguous. The law stipulates that public servants who receive money or entertainment worth more than 1 million won ($908) be punished regardless of its connection to a favor. Given the norms of our society, government officials taking money in excess of 1 million won should, of course, be penalized.
But even if they receive a bribe less than 1 million won, they are held accountable if it is related to their job. The government’s current ethics guidelines for civil servants limit the total cost of entertainment to less than 30,000 won.
If such a clause is left unchanged, civil servants can be punished even for enjoying a bottle of soju and a beef rib barbecue meal. Investigation authorities could abuse their power anytime if they wanted to. And a widespread crackdown could damage our already lackluster economy. Lawmakers must clearly define the scope and degree of punishment to minimize undesired side-effects.