Bipartisan push moves to revise antigraft law

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Bipartisan push moves to revise antigraft law

Politicians from both sides of the aisle urged President Park Geun-hye to dilute the new anticorruption law by revising the specifics of the enforcement decrees as concerns of shrinking domestic spending grew.

Rep. Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, said Monday he is making “a formal request” to Park and her administration to revise the enforcement decrees of the Improper Solicitation and Graft Act to minimize the anticipated damages on the farming, fisheries and livestock industries. He said the current standards are too outdated to reflect reality.

After years of debate, the National Assembly passed a tough antigraft bill in March 2015 despite worries about its scope and ambiguity. The Improper Solicitation and Graft Act, often referred to as Kim Young-ran Law after the former head of the anticorruption commission who authored the initial draft, is scheduled to take effect on Sept. 28, 2016.

The sweeping new law will cover not only civil servants and lawmakers but also teachers at private schools and journalists as well as their spouses. 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 ($901.79), or accumulated gifts worth more than 3 million won a year, will be punishable under the law. Forms of entertainment such as expensive meals, rounds of golf or paid vacations are also covered by the law.

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, the specific enforcement guidelines published by the Anticorruption and Civil Rights Commission in May said.

Being treated to a meal by job-related contacts, if it costs more than 30,000 won, is also in violation of the law.

“When the National Policy Committee was reviewing the bill, a consensus was reached that the limit for a meal is 50,000 won and a gift is 100,000 won,” said Woo. “But when the enforcement decrees were established, the existing guidelines for civil servants, created by the anticorruption commission in 2003, became a reference. Because it limits a meal to 30,000 won and a gift to 50,000 won, we could not apply our standards.”

Woo added that the guidelines were made 13 years ago and are unreasonable to use today.

“Because the 2003 standards were used, our good intentions will produce unexpected victims,” Woo said. “The president can change the enforcement decrees, not the National Assembly. If the president and the government are worried about industries suffering, they should adjust the enforcement decrees to minimize the damages while upholding the good intention of the law.”

Rep. Byun Jae-ill, chief policymaker, supported Woo’s idea.

“When I was working as a vice minister in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, the 30,000-won standard was burdensome to our society,” he said. “That was 13 years ago, and it had not been properly respected in the officialdom. Enforcing that standard will prompt various problems in our society. The president should deeply consider [changing the enforcement decrees].”

The ruling Saenuri Party also urged the Park administration to change the enforcement decrees to ease the impact on the economy.

“The Kim Young-ran law carries the people’s desire to eradicate corruption and irregularities,” said Rep. Chung Jin-suk, floor leader of the ruling party. “The Saenuri Party will take the lead to respect this.”

He then asked the government to change the enforcement decrees.

“The government must reflect the concerns of farming, fisheries and livestock industries when it revises the enforcement decrees,” he said.

On Sunday, Chung also made clear that the ruling party has no intention to revise the law.

It remains to be seen how Park will respond to the ruling and main opposition parties’ requests. After the Constitutional Court ruled last week the scope and ambiguity of the anticorruption law is constitutional, the Blue House made no official comment.

After the National Assembly passed the new graft bill last year, the Blue House welcomed it, expressing anticipation that it should serve as an opportunity to reduce irregularities and corruption in Korean society.

Park, however, asked the National Assembly to dilute the bill in April, saying the law will harm the government’s efforts to stimulate domestic consumption. Speculation was high that the government’s enforcement decrees would allow larger amounts of gifts and entertainments, but the anticorruption commission’s announcement in May kept the 2003 standards.

Park will host the cabinet meeting today, and speculation grows that she may comment on the issue.

The People’s Party’s former leader Ahn Cheol-soo presented Monday a revision to the anticorruption law with an aim to further strengthen it. Rep. Ahn’s proposal was intended to add a clause to prevent a conflict of interest in the anticorruption law.

According to Ahn’s bill, public officials are required to avoid performing duties that are deemed to be conflicts of interest. Public officials are barred from working on duties that are related themselves or their family.

Senior officials are barred from hiring family members in their offices. Companies invested in by senior officials and their families are barred from forming contracts with the officials’ ministries or agencies.

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

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