Park seeks to minimize antigraft law’s impact on economy

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Park seeks to minimize antigraft law’s impact on economy

President Park Geun-hye asked Tuesday that the Cabinet come up with measures to minimize the new antigraft law’s adverse impacts on the economy, amid concerns over shrinking domestic consumption due to the rigid enforcement standards.

In her meeting with the Cabinet in the morning, Park said she respects the Constitutional Court’s recent ruling on the Improper Solicitation and Graft Act. “The Constitutional Court ruled last week that the law is constitutional,” Park said. “The ruling confirms the consensus that the time has come to end the long-held cycle of corruption in our society, but there will be some hardship during the transition period.”

Park then mentioned concerns that the law would throw cold water on the already slow economy by discouraging domestic spending. “Upholding the spirit of the law while minimizing damage to the economy is the important task now before the government,” she said. “Concerned ministries must pay thorough attention to the farming, fisheries, livestock and restaurant industries and come up with measures to minimize the impact.”

Park had already talked about the anticipated damage to the economy that could result from the new law, scheduled to take effect on Sept. 28, 2016. During her meeting with chief editors of the news media in April, Park urged the National Assembly to water the bill down.

It remains to be seen how Park will handle the issue, as the ruling and opposition parties already made clear they will not revise the law, but instead asked Park to dilute the enforcement decrees.

Until these economic concerns were raised, Park used to be an advocate of the tougher anticorruption law. 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, and Park pledged to clean up the public sector.

In her address to the nation in May 2014, Park urged the National Assembly to pass the anticorruption bill. The passage came in March 2015.

According to the enforcement plan announced by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission in May, public officials are barred from accepting a gift worth more than 50,000 won ($45) or receiving more than 100,000 won in cash for a wedding or funeral. Being treated to a meal by job-related contacts, if it costs more than 30,000 won, is also illegal.

The Saenuri Party has asked the government to exclude agricultural, livestock, or fishery products from the scope of gifts covered by the law. The Minjoo Party of Korea said the limits for the gifts and meals should be increased, because the amounts were decided based on the 2003 ethics standards for the public servants.

The Ministry of Government Legislation, which oversees the finalization process of the enforcement decrees, held a meeting Tuesday morning with concerned ministries to discuss the controversy surrounding the specifics of the anticorruption law. The meeting was attended by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, the anticorruption commission, Korea Forest Service and Small and Medium Business Administration.

According to the Government Legislation Ministry, different opinions were confirmed among the ministries about the limits of gifts and meals and their expected impacts on the economy. “We will hold a policy consultation meeting with concerned ministries for further discussion on the matter,” it said.

The agriculture and fisheries ministries and the forest service said the planned enforcement decrees were based on the 2003 standards, failing to reflect the price increase. Concerns were also expressed about the impacts on small business operators.

At the meeting, the agriculture ministry proposed that the limit for meals should be raised to 50,000 won, gifts to 100,000 won and wedding and funeral gifts to 200,000 won. The fisheries ministry proposed a 80,000-won limit for a meal and a 100,000-won limit for gifts. The small business administration proposed 80,000 won for both meals and gifts.

The anticorruption commission, however, said it created the enforcement plan based on surveys of concerned industries and the public.

“The anticipated gains by building a transparent society,” it said, “will bring about a long-term benefit to the economy.”

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

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