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Gift ceiling in antigraft law may be lifted for industries

Nov 28,2017
The government will decide today whether to amend the antigraft law for public officials, teachers and journalists by raising the caps on spending on meals and presents, responding to criticism that the restrictions have taken a toll on agricultural and livestock industries.

The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, which oversees the so-called Kim Young-ran Act, held a closed-door meeting Monday to discuss possible revisions.

Among key agenda items, according to sources with knowledge of the talks, were the commission’s plans to raise the cap on gifts given to civil servants from the current 50,000 won ($46) to 100,000 won as long as the presents are agricultural, livestock or marine goods.

The idea of raising the meal cap from the current 30,000 won to 50,000 won appears to have lost momentum during the commission’s internal meeting.

The antigraft law, which went into effect on Sept. 28, 2016, takes its name from Kim Young-ran, a former chief of the commission who authored its initial draft.

The government will hold a meeting with the ruling Democratic Party today to finalize any changes to the system and announce the results Thursday. If authorities do decide to raise the gift cap, related industries may see a positive impact as early as next February, when Korea celebrates Lunar New Year, or Seollal, on Feb. 16, one of the country’s two largest gift-giving holidays alongside Chuseok, the harvest festival.

Dried yellow corvina, or gulbi, merchants in Yeonggwang County, South Jeolla were hopeful their business would improve.

“We had to sell corvinas in really small packages of three to five fish,” said Kang Cheol, 70, head of a group of Yeonggwang gulbi sellers. “If the government raises the cap to 100,000 won, we can return to selling double the amount.”

Data from the Yeonggwang county office showed a 40 percent drop in sales of the area’s corvinas this past Chuseok compared to the previous year.

Some 81 billion won worth of the catch was sold last October during the holiday, whereas the previous Chuseok saw 135 billion won in sales.

Lee Jong-gwan, 38, who owns a hanwoo (Korean beef) shop in Daegu, expected more customers as well.

“With a 50,000 won cap,” said Lee, “it was the like the government telling local customers to buy cheaper imports. The system is finally going back to normalcy.”

BY CHEONG YONG-WHAN, KIM HO AND WEE SUNG-WOOK [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]