Back To Top

[Editorial] Lawmakers’ ethics

Recent cases show positive, negative developments

Recently, there has been a series of news reports about lawmakers accused of wrongdoing. There were both positive and negative elements in them.

The positive news came from The Minjoo Party of Korea, the main opposition party whose ethics panel suspended the party membership of two lawmakers -- Reps. Noh Young-min and Shin Ki-nam.

The disciplinary action, which bans Noh for six months and Shin for three months, is harsher than it might sound because it will automatically forfeit the lawmakers’ chance of party nomination for the April 13 general election.
Noh, elected in Cheongju, North Chuncheong Province, stirred controversy last month when it was found that he had a credit card terminal at his Assembly office to sell his book. He was the chairman of the powerful Industry, Trade and Energy Committee at the time and the “customers” who paid up to millions of won to buy multiple copies of the book included officials from government offices and public enterprises audited by the committee.

It violated, above all, the law that requires card terminals to be used only at places of business -- bookstores or the publishing house in Noh’s case. As public criticism mounted, Noh resigned from his post as chairman.

Shin’s case was the latest involving the children of lawmakers. Shin’s son failed to pass the graduation exam of his law school, which disqualified him for the state-administered bar exam.

Shin, himself a lawyer, met the school officials -- he even paid a visit to its dean at the school -- and allegedly sought favors for his son. Some officials were quoted as saying that Shin even hinted at helping revise the law on licensing graduates of law schools.  

Following cases in which lawmakers peddled influence to get their children a lawyer’s job, the Shin case enraged the public and Shin offered public apologies.

It is easy to understand why the Minjoo Party departed from its usual leniency toward unethical lawmakers. The party needs to improve its public image ahead of the upcoming election, in which it faces an uphill battle against the ruling party and the new opposition group headed by Ahn Cheol-soo.

Whatever the motives may be, the Minjoo Party’s decision should be welcomed as a positive development in tackling lawmakers’ misdeeds.

But there is a case which is as disappointing as the Noh and Shin cases are welcome -- the alleged graft scandal involving Rep. Lee Byung-suk of the ruling Saenuri Party.

Lee, a six-term lawmaker from Pohang who once served as the vice speaker, has been under investigation in connection with a massive probe into POSCO. Prosecutors suspect that Lee received money from suppliers to the steel giant in return for peddling influence with POSCO executives.

Prosecutors issued summons against Lee four times, but Lee ignored all of them. Lee claims that the probe, which also targets former President Lee Myung-bak’s elder brother, is politically motivated.

There are some grounds to the claim that the probe into POSCO has something to do with politics, but it is wrong for Lee to avoid questioning under the cover of the immunity that keeps lawmakers from detention while parliament is in session.

It is a pity that Lee and the Saenuri Party overlook the negative effects the case -- contrary to the cases of Noh and Shin at the Minjoo Party -- will have on their election campaign.

The Justice Ministry did well to ask the parliament to approve Lee’s arrest, which is the only way to put lawmakers into custody during a parliamentary session. The speaker and the ruling party should follow up on the arrest motion in time. It would of course be much better for Lee to comply with the summons on his own.