Published : 2013-09-06 21:09
Updated : 2013-09-06 21:09
It is not unusual for avid readers to stand in line at a large downtown bookstore, waiting for a renowned novelist or a well-read poet to write his or her signature on the books they have just purchased. Nor is it rare for a foundation to hold a book-launching ceremony in honor of a scholar whose research program it has sponsored.
Book launches may come in different styles. But one thing is common: The authors and their publishers aim at wide readership. Profit making is no less important for many of them, though it may not be a goal for nonprofit organizations sponsoring research programs.
Frequently witnessed is a different type of book launch ― one for books authored by lawmakers. Such a book launch does not aim at expanding readership. Instead, it aims at drawing people with deep pockets, including top corporate executives and other businessmen. When the author is an influential lawmaker, it is not unusual to find senior government officials among those waiting in a long line to be admitted to a ceremony hall.
But few would buy books written by lawmakers, should they be on display at a bookstore. Who would read the books that are little better than self-aggrandizing advertisements?
Of course, there are exceptions ― autobiographies or compilations of policy proposals penned by or ghostwritten for those with presidential ambitions ahead of an election. Some of them even make bestsellers.
Still, almost all lawmakers publish a book at least once before their term in office expires ― usually a few months before a parliamentary election is held. The reason is that there are few better vehicles with which to raise funds to finance their reelections.
Those attending a lawmaker’s book-launching ceremony pay much more than the listed price, which usually ranges from 10,000 won to 20,000 won. Each guest, before being admitted to the ceremony hall, submits a cash envelope with his name written on it and receives a copy of the book at the counter.
The money collected at a book-launching ceremony is not subject to the political funding law. It is neither taxed nor reported in income tax returns. The cash contained in the envelope, which remains confidential, may be used to bribe the lawmaker, because millions of won can easily change hands in this manner.
More than two years are left until the next parliament comes around. Yet, quite a few lawmakers have recently held, or are planning to hold in the near future, book-launching ceremonies. They are chairmen or members of powerful committees who would like to make the most of the 100-day regular legislative session, which started on Sept. 2, to line their pockets.
A case in point is a ceremony held by the chairman of the Special Committee on Budget and Settlement ― a committee that is empowered to take action on spending proposals from government agencies during the regular session. More than 1,000 guests attended the Monday event. They included members of the Cabinet and top managers of leading corporations in the nation.
It definitely is time for civil society to start a campaign against such book-launching ceremonies and put pressure on political parties to rewrite laws to put proceeds from them under the scrutiny of tax and other government agencies.