Published : 2014-05-12 20:41
Updated : 2014-05-12 20:41
The Sewol ferry tragedy has once again brought into focus the so-called Kim Young-ran bill, a legislative proposal aimed at rooting out corruption among public officials.
The disaster clearly showed the urgent need to enact the bill as one of its main causes was the symbiotic ties among the Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries, shipping companies and industry organizations in charge of inspecting ships and ferry operations.
Yoo Byung-eon, the de facto owner of Chonghaejin Marine Co., the operator of the Sewol ferry, is alleged to have received favors from officials at the maritime authorities in making a comeback after bankruptcy and running the shipping company.
Former ministry officials at the shipping industry organizations are suspected of using their personal ties with incumbent ministry officials in protecting the interests of shipping companies.
As the investigation highlights the role of corrupt public officials in causing the disaster, lawmakers are moving to renew deliberation on the anticorruption legislation.
The bill was first proposed in August 2012 by Kim Young-ran, then head of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, to prevent public officials from putting themselves in a position where their personal interests conflict with those of the organizations they work for.
Kim’s bill was described as draconian as it proposed that civil servants who received 1 million won ($900) or more be put in jail for up to three years ― whether or not the money was related to their duties or positions and whether or not they were requested to offer favors in return.
The bill faced opposition from the Justice Ministry, which suggested that money-taking officials be punished only when they have offered favors in return. It also insisted that they be punished with fines, not imprisonment.
A compromise bill worked out by the Office of the Prime Minister proposed that bribe-taking public officials be subject to criminal punishment only when the money was given to them with the intention to use their influence.
The government submitted the revised version to the National Assembly in August 2013. But lawmakers did not bother to discuss it because even the watered-down version, if enacted, could be too constraining for them.
Following the sinking of the Sewol ferry, some lawmakers of the ruling and opposition parties submitted a set of proposals aimed at curbing corruption among public officials. Their moves are commendable. But a priority for them is passing the original version of the Kim Young-ran bill without further delay.
In April, lawmakers of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy renewed their pledge to push for the enactment of the original bill. But they failed to win cooperation from the ruling party.
The Saenuri Party needs to cooperate with the NPAD to pass the original bill. If enacted, it alone could go a long way in reining in corruption in officialdom and preventing manmade disasters.