select languages
Breaking down President  Park Geun-hye's U.S. Congressional speech in word cloud
sns RSS mobile twitter
latestnewslatestnews RSS
Editorials from Dailies
Home > Editorials from Dailies
(EDITORIAL from the Korea Times on Aug. 1)
Salvaging anti-graft act
-Put real teeth back to ‘Kim Young-ran Law'-

The government’s anti-corruption bill finally passed a Cabinet meeting Tuesday after a yearlong controversy over the severity of its content between different agencies. Regrettably, that one year was a period in which bureaucrats demonstrated how they could water down a law disadvantageous to them.

   We should of course not be unduly stingy with recognizing the efforts of the organization that drafted it, the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC).

   The bill, for instance, calls for punishing public officials who receive money or gifts from people “related with their jobs,” by jailing them for up to three years or slapping on penalties at a maximum 30 million won ($27,200) without requiring proof of quid pro quo corruption as in the past. Also notable was the ban on “self-profiteering” by officials who make personal investments using valuable information gleaned on the job.

   Eclipsing all this progress was a fatal setback from the original bill ―called the “Kim Young-ran Law” after a former ACRC head who first proposed it ― which will let bribe-takers off the hook if the money they are offered has nothing to do with their duties. These violators will only have to pay fines up to five times of bribes without facing criminal charges.

   This is a lamentable retreat, as there is a world of difference between criminal punishment and fines: officials who receive criminal penalties cannot go back to the officialdom while those fined can always do so.

   Some, including most foreigners, might ask why it is important to punish all instances of bribery regardless of their relation and reciprocation. But what has corrupted Korean officialdom most are these bribes ― with names such as “chonji” (token of gratitude) or “ddeokgap” (greeting fee) ― given periodically and seemingly for no specific and immediate purposes. These are major tools with which businesses maintain shady ties with officials of influence by becoming the latter’s "sponsors.”
Especially disappointing is the fact the agency which takes the lead in defanging the proposed law is the one that should set the example of strict law enforcement: the Justice Ministry. Come to think of it, however, that may be understandable because the ministry is full of prosecutors some of whom ― nicknamed “sponsored prosecutor” or “Mercedes (-bribed) prosecutor” ― have provided critical motives for this law. The prosecutor who drives the German luxury sedan will no doubt be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the weakened law, as he is not a professional driver.

   The National Assembly must make bipartisan efforts to put the bill back to its original state when it convenes a related panel early this month. The representatives of the people have only to keep two things in mind: first, retired officials receive pensions two to three times higher than private sector retirees. Second, voters who receive “chonji” from candidates have to pay penalties 50 times, not five times, of the bribe.

   Korea is ranked 27th among 34 OECD countries in terms of governmental corruption. It’s been some time the nation has called itself the “Republic of Corruption.” But there is a new addition to hallyu (should we call it “K-corruption”?), as Korean businesspeople give chonji and ddeokgap even to foreign officials.

   ACRC officials say they are confident the new law, benchmarked from Germany and France, will help to sharply increase officials’ integrity. We know better than agreeing to the self-praise. German and French officials are no match to their Korean counterparts as long as this particular tradition is concerned.