An anti-graft law targeting public officials, media workers, teachers and their spouses will have been in force for a full year on Thursday.
Obviously, the Improper Solicitations and Graft Prohibition Act has produced positive results, and it is a welcome phenomenon for the law to have paved the way for a more ethical culture. A clear majority of Koreans believe the law has served its objective of rooting out corruption.
According to a survey of 1,202 people, released by the Korean Sociological Association in a symposium Wednesday, 89.4 percent of respondents said the law has been effective in reducing bribery.
Changes in schools are outstanding. An extensive online poll of 36,947 parents and 18,101 teachers unveiled by Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education shows 76 percent of parents and 82 percent of teachers said inappropriate requests for special favors in schools disappeared after the law took effect.
Under the regulation, better known as the “Kim Young-ran law” after the former Supreme Court justice who proposed the act, failure to report improper solicitation or acceptance of favors worth more than 1 million won ($880) will be sentenced to less than three years in jail or a fine of 30 million won. Those who are treated to meals worth more than 30,000 won, receive gifts worth more than 50,000 won or accept more than 100,000 won in cash as a customary token of celebration or mourning from people other than family members will be fined.
Though polls show it is perceived as effective in getting rid of corruption, the law still leaves some issues to be solved.
It regulates quotidian expenses too strictly and in minute detail, putting a damper on consumer sentiment and damaging agriculture, livestock, fisheries and floricultural industries as well as restaurant business. Korea has an old custom of offering products from the industries as gifts. According to a recent Korea Federation of SMEs survey of 300 businesses in the industries, 56.7 percent said their sales had plunged an average of 34.6 percent in the year after the law was enforced. Their situation is more serious than thought.
Revising the law after just a year in force may seem questionable, but it is not right to ignore the plight of industries caused by the law. And yet their demand for exemption from the law is unreasonable in that such an exception can create a bad precedent that will undermine the law’s intent of eliminating corruption. Mending the expense ceilings merits sufficient consideration, with its framework being maintained.
Concepts of improper solicitations specified in the law and association between solicitations and jobs held by those receiving solicitations must also be further clarified.
Criticism that penalties are light compared to other anti-bribery acts must not be ignored.
Whether infractions are being properly investigated should also be weighed. According to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, 111 people had been booked by the end of last month for breaking the law, with seven of them indicted and only one fined. Ways to raise the effectiveness of judicial action need to be sought to prevent the law from losing its force.
The reality in which people cannot but mind expenses on wining and dining clients and giving them gifts to avoid breaching the law is hardly normal. It is undesirable that students are advised not to buy small gifts for teachers or to pin carnation corsages on them even on Teachers Day. Though the act appears to be taking roots, it will seldom attain its goal unless its loopholes and side effects are fixed.
The conservative Liberty Korea and Bareun parties seek to adjust the expense caps. Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said in a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, “the law needs to be reviewed comprehensively.” The government is working on remedies of its imperfections. The time is ripe for adjusting the law to minimize its side effects while keeping its purpose uncompromised.