Graft law targets monetary gifts

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Graft law targets monetary gifts

Under a new graft law, public servants, journalists and teachers will face punishment for being treated to a meal by job-related contacts if it costs more than 30,000 won ($25.71), the country’s anti-corruption commission decided Monday.

The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission announced Monday an enforcement plan for the Improper Solicitation and Graft Act, providing specific guidelines for the controversial law. According to the draft, accepting a gift worth 50,000 won or receiving more than 100,000 won in cash for a wedding or funeral will also be illegal. After years of debate, the National Assembly passed the tough anti-graft bill in 2015, despite controversy over its vagueness and scope. The new law, named after Kim Young-ran, the former head of the anti-corruption commission who authored the initial draft, is scheduled to take effect on Sept. 28, 2016.

According to the law, a public official will face criminal punishment for receiving money or favors deemed expensive. A gift worth more than 1 million won or accumulated gifts worth more than 3 million won a year are punishable. In addition, entertainment such as expensive meals, rounds of golf or paid vacations are also covered by the law. The law defines “public officials” quite broadly. Aside from civil servants and lawmakers, teachers at private schools and journalists are also covered because the bill considers the nature of their work public. Even their spouses are covered.

The people who provide money or favors will also face punitive action.

“The Constitutional Court is currently reviewing the challenges against some part of the law and there are demands to revise the law accordingly,” said Sung Yung-hoon, chairman of the anti-corruption commission. “There are also concerns that the law will discourage domestic spending. But the enforcement date, decided by the National Assembly, is imminent, and we cannot delay the enforcement decree any further.”

These guidelines, Sung stressed, are not final. “Over the next 40 days, we will collect various opinions and finalize a decree that can be endorsed by the public.”

Sung said restaurant owners, farmers and fishermen have consistently shown concern that the law discourages consumption, while civic groups, including parents’ organizations, demanded sterner restrictions. He then announced the 30,000 won-limit for meals, 50,000 won-limit for gifts and 100,000 won-limit for cash gifts at a wedding or a funeral, adding that the amounts were decided by considering the law’s intentions, public surveys and Korean social customs.

According to the commission, the 30,000 won-limit for a meal will include drinks and the 100,000 won-limit for wedding or funeral gifts will include the bills for flower arrangements. The decree draft also specified the limit that a public official may receive as a lecturer. A civil servant is allowed to receive up to 500,000 won per hour for lectures related to their duty. Journalists and teachers are allowed to receive up to 1 million won per lecture, regardless of duration.

According to the commission, it consulted experts from various areas to set these standards. It also conducted surveys last July with 1,500 people, 300 civil servants, 300 private school teachers and 200 journalists.

“Internally, we struggled very much to find the proper amounts that will keep the good intentions of the law without affecting the economy, as President Park Geun-hye recently pointed out,” said a commission official.

In April, Park showed concerns that the law may throw cold water on the government’s efforts to boost domestic consumption, asking the National Assembly to ease its restrictions. The bill, first submitted in 2011, saw slow progress but gained headwind following the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April 2014. The tragic deaths of more than 300 passengers shed new light on the corrupt relationship between Korean officials and companies in the private sector, putting pressure on the government to clean up the public sector.

It took one year and two months for the commission to come up with the draft decree, while the controversy surrounding the law, including the constitutional challenge, continues.

After the commission collects public opinions on the draft guidelines by June 22, the plan will undergo a regulatory evaluation in mid-July at the Office for Government Policy Coordination under the Prime Minister’s Office. The Ministry of Government Legislation will then review it to see if any parts of the decree clash with higher-level laws. If no conflicts are found, it will then be approved at the vice ministerial meeting and cabinet meeting in August.

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

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