Avoidable conflicts of interest

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Avoidable conflicts of interest

 The way Rep. Park Duk-hyum behaved as a lawmaker was very inappropriate. A former chairman of the Korea Specialty Contractors Association, Park, a legislator from the opposition People Power Party (PPP), served as a member of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Committee in the National Assembly for five years, while he and his family were major shareholders of construction companies. He even worked as a senior member of the opposition in the last National Assembly despite concerns about a conflict of interest.

The legislator faces suspicions that construction companies owned by him and his family made profits in excess of 100 billion won ($86 million) after receiving orders from subsidiaries of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport — which is overseen by his committee. According to Rep. Jin Sung-joon, a lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party (DP), some of his companies made contracts with the government to rake in 77.3 billion won in profit and 37.1 billion won from intellectual property rights owned by his companies.

That’s not all. In 2016, he allegedly put the brakes on a bill aimed at reinforcing restrictions on bid rigging among construction companies, which led to an easing of the bill before its passage through the Assembly. The media also accused him of making money from winning orders amounting to 48 billion won from municipal governments. In a press conference on Monday, Park denied all the allegations. “I have never pressured or solicited government organizations to make contracts with my companies,” he stressed.

The truth behind his business dealings should be investigated by law enforcement agencies. The PPP said it will set up a special committee to probe the case. But the party can hardly dispel public concerns if it drags its feet. The opposition must remember how it reacted to a plethora of allegations against Reps. Yoon Mee-hyang, Kim Hong-gul and Lee Sang-jik in the past. The PPP has some responsibility for placing him on the committee. The opposition must apply tougher ethical standards to avoid the appearance of impropriety, which it has clearly failed to do in this case.

The National Assembly must revise the act so that it can serve as an effective tool to avert any possible conflict of interest among lawmakers. A related clause was removed from an antisolicitation bill in the course of a legislative debate in 2015. A revised bill is supposed to be submitted to the legislature after it was approved in a cabinet meeting last month. Lawmakers must prevent conflicts of interest once and for all.
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