Loopholes guaranteedA bill cracking down on conflict of interests among holders of public office passed a preliminary review by the legislative subcommittee of the National Policy Committee after a bipartisan agreement between the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the opposition People Power Party (PPP) in the National Assembly. Both parties plan to pass the bill in a plenary session to be held later this month. In 2013, our lawmakers started discussions on a bill aimed at banning solicitations and preventing conflict of interests among public office holders. The part on banning solicitations was incorporated into the Kim Young-ran Law in 2015 and the part on conflict of interest was incorporated into the ethics code for civil servants in 2018. The two parts have been combined into the latest bill.
The bill requires public office holders to avoid jobs related to their own interests and prohibits them from using undisclosed information acquired on the job for their personal gain. They will have to report their financial, securities and real estate transactions to authorities. Hiring of family members is restricted. The bill can be seen as progress, as it aims to prevent potential conflicts of interest before they happen.
But the legislature is rushing to pass the bill after the LH scandal, which involved civil servants buying land using inside information. In the rush, it is getting things wrong. First of all, the number of people who must follow the law is too big — a whopping 5 to 6 million if you include families of the 1.9 million civil servants, employees of public corporations and members of local councils. If the reach of the law is too broad, it won’t work. When it comes to public servants’ contacts with retired colleagues — a popular route for influence peddling — the bill stipulates that public office holders only need to report golf outings, overseas travel and entertainment with the retirees. As a result, the bill seems to have many loopholes from the start. We hope the lawmakers minimize them before passing the bill.
Given the past criticism of the Kim Young-ran Law, the bill has covered lawmakers this time. But a clause that allows legislators to report their transactions related to their activities in their standing committee seems overly lax. Lawmakers could revise the National Assembly Law to benefit themselves at any time. If they come up laxer regulations for themselves than for other professions, they will be confronted with national outrage. We hope they make a wise decision.