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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 29)

All News 06:58 September 29, 2016

Going Dutch
Kim Young-ran act to transform Korea as it is known

It is an encompassing renovation of the nation through culture, history, tradition and what not, comparable to a heart transplant on a massive scale ― taking out the Korean heart and putting the Dutch one in its place.

The new code of conduct after the Sept. 28 effectuation of the Improper Solicitation and Graft Act comes down to two things: pay for what you eat and don't ask or curry special favors. Or you would pay a monetary penalty, get ostracized or land behind bars. It directly affects four million bureaucrats, teachers and journalists as well as their spouses. By extension, the entire country is as good as under its spell.

Ordinarily, the law is considered as the minimum set of mores of a society whose members have come to agree to keep over a long period of time. The so-called Kim Young-ran law, named after the judge who proposed it, is the other way around. The high standards of binding regulations are forced upon the society, which has long suffered the incurable illness of corruption, very much of which has been ingrained in a garden variety of forms into the way its members live.

One of its most striking characteristics is a preemptive feature. The existing anti-bribery law puts the burden of proof on lawmen. Even if one receives money from another, the two can't be punished unless the relationship of quid pro quo is proved in the court of law. Now, asking for a favor without transfer of money or such a promise is against the law.

For example, teachers may not receive any gift, irrespective of value, from students who are in their classes and whose evaluation scores they can influence. A journalist breaks the law by asking an employee he or she knows through his work to put his request on the top of others, even if no money or gift is given.

The most well-known feature of the act is the so-called 3/5/10 law: ceilings for 30,000 won ($27) for a meal; 50,000 won for a gift and 100,000 won for a wedding gift or consolation money for funeral. But these are "exceptions" in the act that are allowed for the purposes of "effective mission execution; fraternity and socially accepted practices" (true, they are vague).

Say, an executive is having dinner with a journalist, has to leave for a call from office. If he pays for the bill for both of them and a journalist finishes the meal alone, it could be a violation because it is not an act of fraternity.

Of course, if the executive is judged to pay for a favor, it is a violation, too.

The vagueness is the biggest flaw of the act and needs to be perfected through the accumulation of rulings over a long period of time.

Last and not least, the act is comprehensive ― meaning not just violators directly involved but also organizations they belong to are held responsible. Colleagues, who come to know of the violation, are required to report or face a penalty as well. The monetary penalties are stiff ― ranging two to five times the amount at stake with the amount not a portion above the designated ceiling but its entirety. Last, it's territorial as it affects foreigners in the nation.

No doubt, the successful implementation of the act requires colossal amounts of patience from the entire nation but the most important is to make as few exceptions as possible. All told, it is still tempting to think of a new Korea ― transparent and fair.

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