The so-called Kim Young-ran Act against illegal solicitations and bribery passed the plenary session of the National Assembly on Mar. 3. It is hoped that the passage of the bill, which covers all types of bribes regardless of the amount of money, will give Korean society an opportunity to eradicate the vices overlooked in exchange for rapid economic development, and turn itself into a cleaner and more transparent society.
We have witnessed the cancer of deep-rooted corruption via the Sewol Ferry catastrophe. The disaster would have been preventable if the Kim Young-ran Act had been in effect at that time. The collusion between the shipping industry and public employees has been mentioned as one of the main culprits of the calamity. Safety inspections were haphazard and cargo was allowed to go overloaded based on collusion.
The Korean government, in fact, has tried for long to improve the integrity of society, falling short of expectations in many cases. In December last year, Transparency International announced that Korea scored 55 out of 100 in the Corruption Perceptions Index, ranking 27th out of the 34 OECD member countries and falling behind Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan in Asia. According to the World Economic Forum’s recent data, Korea took 133rd place in policy-making transparency, 97th in trust in politicians, 82nd in judicial independence, 82nd in favoritism in public society, and 113th in legal efficiency and deregulation. Koreans’ trust in politicians was even shallower than in Uganda.
The Kim Young-ran Act is indispensable for Korea to root out corruption and pursue sustainable growth. The majority of the population is in favor of the bill, too. In Realmeter’s March 4 poll, more than 60 percent of the respondents answered that they were for the bill.
Nevertheless, news channels are criticizing the bill as containing a lot of unconstitutional parts due to the hurried passage and violating the principle of equality by including private media in the scope of the bill to cover the public sector. Also, the Korean Bar Association said that it would file an unconstitutionality suit on Mar. 5. What they are denying is the fact that corruption in the public sector is closely connected to the private sector, including the press.
It is far from desirable to argue over the scope of the law. Corruption is prevalent and widespread in Korean society as a whole, whether private or public. So both those constituting public organizations and private ones fulfilling a public role must join the efforts to fight it.
Some voices point out that the bill would give a negative impact on the national economy. Anti-corruption & Civil Rights Commission Chairman Lee Seong-bo cited research to explain that the per-capita GDP and economic growth rate are higher in less corrupt countries. The Hyundai Research Institute mentioned that Korea will be able to add 0.65 percentage points to its economic growth rate if it succeeds in raising its level of integrity to the OECD average.
The political community and the press should stop their blanket criticism, unless what they want is the complete revocation of the bill. The act has to keep the original spirit and be handled as planned, so that Korea can become a transparent society free from corruption. Defects could be corrected without damaging the framework.