Mending the antigraft law

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Mending the antigraft law

The government and ruling Saenuri Party agreed to amend the tough antigraft law, dubbed the Kim Young-ran Act, whose strict spending cap on workers in public service as well as the media dampened consumer sentiment and further aggravated domestic demand. The law prevents public officials, journalists and teachers from receiving meals beyond 30,000 won ($25), gifts valuing more than 50,000 won, and wedding or funeral cash tokens of more than 100,000 won since Sept. 28 last year.

Lee Hyun-jae, Saenuri policy chief, said in a briefing that the government has agreed to embark on revising the law upon consensus that the farming and livestock sector has been hard hit by the law.

The law has brought about sweeping changes to society. Illicit favors and habitual entertaining for bureaucrats have sharply eased, and going Dutch has become customary. Side and ill effects were also substantial. The anticorruption commission has applied uniformly rigid regulation without considering social and business practices. As a result, the first report of violation was a student handing a canned coffee drink to a professor. Of 120 reports to the commission, however, only one was fined.

Social attention and vigilance also has subsidized. Moreover, the law lost much of its dignity because President Park Geun-hye, who campaigned for the act to enhance transparency in the society, turned out be a symbol of corruption and irregularities. It is no wonder the law has become a mockery.

The law still has the approval of 85 percent of the people, reflecting the public wish to see society fairer and cleaner. It is therefore important to defend the original purpose of the law while fine-tuning to minimize the ill effects. The revision should take account of the troubled farming, flower and restaurant industries. Sales in the floriculture sector have halved to 700 billion won last year and the restaurant industry shed 30,000 jobs in just two months. The agriculture, fisheries, and livestock industries have been asking for temporary suspension of the act during the Lunar New Year’s holiday, the traditional gift-exchange season.

The party and government must design the law to act as a social norm and respond to social and economic conditions. It could make exceptions on holiday gift packages, raise the meal cap to realistic levels, and separate the expense for funeral flower and cash tokens because it is currently uniformly limited to 100,000 won.

The current money cap does not need to be absolute. Some suggest the wedding and funeral cash token should be lowered to 50,000 won considering people’s growing financial burden. Other loopholes such as the exception clauses to prevent illicit private-sector favors to bureaucrats and the scope of the targets also should be revised to be more realistic.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 18, Page 30

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