Lee Nak-yon sets his sights on antigraft law

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Lee Nak-yon sets his sights on antigraft law

Amendments to the antigraft law may be one of the more immediate actions on the table if Prime Minister-nominee Lee Nak-yon takes office.

“While we cannot forgo the efforts to create a cleaner and less corrupt society, we also need to find the wisdom to pursue the so-called Kim Young-ran Act in ways to make sure it does not heavily clamp down on businesses,” Lee said in his confirmation hearing on Wednesday. “I will review possible amendments to the law if and once I am in office.”

The Improper Solicitation and Graft Act, also known as the Kim Young-ran Act, after its initial sponsor, prohibits public officials, teachers and journalists from receiving costly gifts, meals and congratulatory or condolence payments, possibly in return for favors. Under the law, passed last September, public officials cannot accept meals costing more than 30,000 won ($26), a gift worth more than 50,000 won or more than 100,000 won in cash or presents for a wedding or funeral. These restrictions are referred to collectively as the 3.5.10 rule.

The rigid enforcement standards are having an impact on domestic consumption. In a recent survey of 3,000 restaurant owners by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, restaurateurs said their sales and number of customers dropped to about 75 percent of their performance before Sept. 28, when the antigraft law took effect.

Since late last year, the government has been mulling the idea of raising the limits without otherwise changing the law. There has been speculation that the limits will be either raised to 5.10.10 or 100,000 won for all three categories.

“I will look into the Kim Young-ran Act and discuss possible ways to amend it,” Lee said during the hearing.

When asked by Liberty Korea Party Rep. Khang Hyo-shang whether he will consider raising the limits on the value of meals and gifts public officials could accept, or giving leeway to some agricultural and livestock businesses by making exceptions in regulations, Lee said, “It’s too early in the process to lay out the specifics of possible amendments.”

Lee has spoken publicly on the antigraft law since he was the governor of South Jeolla.

“The law was created to address the traditional entertainment culture of Korea, but it appears to have been drafted without considering the reality,” Lee said on Aug. 1, 2016, two months before the law’s enactment, during a meeting at the South Jeolla provincial government.

In the meeting, Lee pointed out that go-to gift sets during national holidays, like a box of dried yellow corvinas, costs more than 50,000 won on average, exceeding the limit on value of gifts public officials could receive.

“A policy that hurts locals cannot be justified,” Lee said during a visit to a local supermarket in South Jeolla last August. Lee, however, has not called for a repeal of the law.

“The Kim Young-ran Act is a movement toward a less corrupt society, and I hope that public officials of the South Jeolla provincial government will be model citizens in following the law,” he said during a meeting at the provincial government on Oct. 4. “The Kim Young-ran Act, in other words, is a policy to encourage more people to go Dutch when paying bills.

“It’s not about eating less or drinking less,” he said, “or not playing as much golf as before, but it’s about paying for your costs out of your own pocket.”

BY KIM HO, KIM JUNG-HA [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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