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Critics say public officials’ conduct code is unrealistic

Attention is being drawn to the code of conduct for civil servants as a recent string of corruption cases involving public officials has upset the public, seriously tarnishimg the government’s vision of a “fair society.”

Critics argue that while the intention of the code that prohibits officials from receiving expensive meals and other pricy entertainment services from people they meet on official duties, is right, it is somewhat “unrealistic.”

There are two codes of conduct that they should abide by: One was established in 2003 under a presidential decree while the other was set by each government agency and department according to their specific organizational characteristics.

Under the 2003 code of conduct, public officials are banned from receiving anything worth more than 30,000 won ($27.83) from anyone that they meet for matters related to their official duties.

Thus, taking a public official to a golf resort to entertain them ― usually at a cost of much more than 30,000 won ― is against this rule. As the government moves to tighten discipline among civil servants, many officials now refrain from going golfing.

The code also stipulates that public officials should not receive any monetary gifts costing more than 50,000 won for family occasions such as wedding and funeral ceremonies from people except for their relatives.

Some argue that this code is too “stringent” and removed from reality.

“With prices going up, people say they cannot treat someone to a nice meal with expenses less than 30,000 won. That appears to be somewhat unrealistic,” said one critic, declining to be named.

However, an official at the state anti-corruption agency said that given public sentiment, it is difficult to raise the bar.

“When we hold a debate about the limit, citizens even say 30,000 won is expensive for a meal,” an official at the agency said on condition of anonymity.

“That is the amount of money that the government figured out after considering other cases around the world. It is in line with the international trend. In the U.S., I understand that amount is $20 and that is similar to those in other countries.”

Under the code of conduct, a public servant is not to discriminate or give special treatment to someone because of their religious, regional or school ties.

He or she is also not to receive any favors concerning promotion or position changes. It is also banned for a public official to use work-related budgets for other purposes including lunches and dinners.

Other rules were made after taking into consideration specific work environments of each government department and agency.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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