Court must decide fastUnder a new graft law, public servants, journalists and teachers will be penalized if they accept a meal costing more than 30,000 won ($25). They will be breaking the law if they take a gift worth more than 50,000 won.
The law dubbed the Improper Solicitation and Graft Act was announced Monday by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission to take effect on Sept. 28. After years of debate and dithering, the National Assembly last year passed the anticorruption bill — also called the Kim Young-ran Law.
The details were tweaked slightly from the original draft after protest from the agricultural and fishery sectors about slowing business due to a tougher ethics code. Under current law, government employees are prohibited from receiving a meal costing more than 30,000 won and wedding or funeral cash gifts of more than 50,000 won. President Park Geun-hye has expressed concerns that the strict law could further dampen domestic consumption.
We fully welcome the purpose of the law, as it could help root out the deeply-seated shady connection between businessmen and bureaucrats and habitual gift-taking in return for favors. The New York Times called the law “a milestone in the country where bestowing and receiving envelopes of cash and other gifts have long been part of the culture and a suspected channel of bribery.”
Under the new law, any public official and his or her spouse taking a single cash gift of 1 million won, or more than 3 million won a year, could head to prison regardless of any favors attached. Zero tolerance is necessary to fix the long-held practice.
The law is a good one but not perfect. The United States and Japan set the cap on cash-equivalent gifts to around 100,000 won. More reasonable guidelines should be established and tough supervision ensured so the practice becomes common. The details also need more review. The law has broadened the term “public officials” to include journalists and teachers in private schools, raising questions of legal justice and press freedom.
The law has made exceptions for lawmakers and other elected public officials. For example, the provision on conflict of interest — which bans lawmakers from using their influence to seek favor for their children in job placements — was dropped.
The law is currently under scrutiny by the Constitutional Court. The court must come to a decision quickly so that the act can be revised, if needed, before it takes effect.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 10, Page 30