[On the Bar] Recent changes in code of conduct for public officials in Korea

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Dec 9, 2018 - 15:09
  • Updated : Dec 9, 2018 - 15:09

On the Bar is a regular column written by attorneys at Yoon & Yang LLC on various laws and regulations that affect running a business in Korea. The content provided here is general legal information. -- Ed.

The Code of Conduct for Public Officials was revised as of Jan. 16, 2018, and the revised Code of Conduct went into effect on April 17, 2018.

Likewise, other codes of conduct for employees and executives of public institutions and government-related organizations have already been revised or are likely to be revised in the near future.

Therefore, it is necessary for those in frequent contact with public officials to be aware of the revisions made to the Code of Conduct. The major revisions are as follows. 

Seol Ji-hye (left) and Kim Do-kyeom
First of all, the duty of public officials to report matters in which they have personal interests has been enhanced (Article 5 of the Code of Conduct).

Previously, public officials were required to inform their immediate superiors if their tasks were directly related to personal and financial gains.

In contrast, the revised provision requires public officials to report matters not only directly related to themselves but also involving any entity where they or their family members are employed as workers, executives, or directors.

Furthermore, the report must be submitted in writing to the head of the public office where they are employed, rather than just immediate superiors.

This is basically a provision to prevent “conflict of interests,” which has been pointed out as a key missing point in the Improper Solicitation and Graft Act.

Next, there are a few newly introduced provisions.

First of all, a high-ranking public official above the rank of vice minister now has the duty to submit a list of activities he or she has engaged in outside of public service during the three years immediately before the appointment to the public position (Article 5-2).

Secondly, no public official is allowed to engage in any profit-generating activity related to people whose business activities are related to the tasks that the public official oversees unless such engagement is allowed under other laws such as the State Public Officials Act (Article 5-3).

Third, no high-ranking official above the rank of vice minister may influence his/her public office or other governmental institutions to hire his/her family members (Article 5-4).

Fourth, no high-ranking official above the rank of vice minister may have his/her public office or government institutions that are under the supervision of his/her public office enter into the supply of goods or services, construction, and other types of optional private contracts (i.e., contracts without open-bidding process) (Article 5-5).

Fifth, a public official must report to the head of public office where he or she is employed in order to engage in golf, travel, or other types of private entertainment activities with retired officials who have relationships with the tasks the public officials are in charge of and have been in retirement for less than two years (Article 5-6).

Sixth, no public official may ask or provide unlawful favors to those who are not public officials (Article 11.3).

Seventh, no public official may receive, ask, or promise personal services from/to people or other public officials who have interests in the tasks of the public official by exercising his/her authority or influence stemming from his/her authority (Article 13-2).

Lastly, a public official must report to the head of the public office where he/she is employed in advance if the public official, his/her spouse, his/her direct relative who lives with the public official, or other specially related business entity enters into financial or securities transaction with other public officials or a person who is related to the tasks of the concerned public official (Article 16).

The revised Code of Conduct has provisions that are more stringent and detailed in comparison to the Improper Solicitation and Graft Act in order to emphasize the transparency required of public officials and to regain the trust of citizens, which are required for the fair performance of official tasks by public officials.

Although the Code of Conduct only functions as a criteria for reprimanding public officials for their misconduct and is inapplicable to ordinary citizens, the strong willingness of the government to eradicate corruption is clearly reflected in the revised Code of Conduct.

As such, it is necessary to keep an eye on the revisions made to the Code of Conduct to make sure that no violation of the Code of Conduct occurs.

(Herald DB)
By Seol Ji-hye, Kim Do-kyeom

Seol Ji-hye is a partner at Yoon & Yang LLC specializing in intellectual property, health care, entertainment and regulatory compliance. She is a member of the Korean Bar.

Kim Do-kyeom is an associate at Yoon & Yang LLC specializing in general corporate matters, cross-border transactions and regulatory compliance. He is a member of the New York Bar