It all depends on usThe anti-graft act also known as “Kim Young-ran Law” takes effect starting today. Since the Constitutional Court in July ruled in favor of the act, Korean society faces a new era when any type of illegal solicitations or taking bribes in return for favors are strictly banned. The law, which applies to about four million civil servants, teachers and journalists, will most likely have huge impact on our society.
The law is aimed at rooting out widespread corruption and unlawful solicitation. The highest court stressed a need to not damage our hard-earned democracy through the distortion of the rule of law and market order. People eligible for the law now receive criminal punishment if they receive over 1 million won ($910) at a time or 3 million won per year. Even if they receive less than that, they still have to pay fines two to five times the amount of the money they received — even if that money was not offered as kickbacks. People can only be treated to a lunch or dinner of up to 30,000 won, give a present up to 50,000 won, and offer money up to 100,000 won for occasions like marriages or funerals.
Some still regard the law as an excessive infringement on privacy, while others predict a demise of the law sooner or later. Confusion would be unavoidable when it comes to the scope of the application of the law. But it is time for all of us to endeavor to make a cleaner society. We must stop finding possible ways to get around the law.
At the same time, overly strict application of the law can trigger unwanted side effects. The constitutional court expressed concern that the Anti-corruption and Civil Rights Commission — the drafter of the act — interprets the scope of the law too broadly. Judges need to interpret the act in a reasonable way if they really want to uphold the spirit of the law.
Government officials could be tempted to deal with even fair requests from citizens in a passive manner solely out of fear of the law. Many illegitimate solicitations could be made thanks to the non-transparency in handling civil requests or complaints. The government must make the process more transparent from now on. The commission, the Board of Audit and Inspection, the prosecution, police and other agencies all should be careful not to apply the law at their discretion.
We need a deep soul search to break out of our deep-rooted corruption culture. If we can change the way we behave, it would offer a dramatic turning point for us. It all depends on the full participation of our citizens.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 28, Page 30