South Korean lawmakers and officials eat meals each worth 22 dollars during a parliamentary audit at an airport, September 27, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
A tough controversial law aimed at rooting out rampant corruption and bribery in South Korea has taken effect in the country.
The new legislation, which had been upheld by the Constitutional Court in July, came into force on Wednesday to prevent people from bribing teachers, journalists and officials.
Dubbed the Kim Young-ran law, it targets some four million public servants and employees of education institutions who are banned from accepting gifts worth more than 45 dollars, or a meal worth more than 27 dollars.
“The new law is quite different from the past one,” said National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun. “It covers a much wider range of wrongful activities and contains much more severe punishment against offenders.”
Those who break the law will have to pay hefty fines or even face up to three years in jail.
“It will help bring a stop to old habits… People may find it inconvenient but good medicine tastes bitter,” he added.
Presidential spokesman Jung Youn-Kuk described the law as “a turning point to create a fair, clean society… and to enhance our national integrity.”
The law, which has been introduced after a number of high-profile corruption cases in the country, drew criticism and complaints from local businesses, farmers, and restaurateurs, who argue that limits could have serious impact on their jobs.
The Korean Federation of Small and Medium Business expressed concerns that “implementing this law could cause big side effects.” It said the limits “could harm seven million small traders and business owners and those involved in agriculture and forestry.”
Some restaurants in the capital, Seoul, however, are trying to adjust to the changes by introducing new deals under the limits, calling the new deals “anti-corruption law menus.”
South Korea, Asia’s fourth biggest economy, was ranked as 37th in the World Corruption Perceptions Index last year.
More than 78 percent of the respondents to a survey conducted by the Korea Institute of Public Administration in 2014 said they believed corruption among senior officials was serious. Almost 90 percent of the respondents also said corruption and bribery were serious among parliamentarians.