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Antigraft ceiling will not be raised, commission says

Agricultural, livestock industries have been hit especially hard
Nov 29,2017
The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, which oversees the antigraft law for public officials, teachers and journalists, voted down a motion to raise the spending limits on meals and presents Monday, putting the brakes on the administration’s drive to ease market woes in time for the Lunar New Year holidays in February.

The closed-door meeting, which dragged into the evening on Monday, was widely expected to raise the ceilings. The minister for agriculture, food and rural affairs and the minister for oceans and fisheries had asked for an amendment, and Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon mentioned several times that a change to the year-old system was needed.

Had the commission agreed to an amendment, the government would have held a meeting with the ruling Democratic Party yesterday to finalize the outcome and report it to the general public in an official announcement today.

An official with the commission said members of the Monday meeting engaged in a “fierce” debate over the motion, but eventually decided to reject it for the time being. Other sources said the commission might partially improvise the motion and put it up for a second vote.

The motion required a majority vote to pass, with more than half of the commission’s 15 commissioners present. One chairperson, three vice-chairpersons, three standing commissioners and eight non-standing commissioners make up the 15-commissioner circle. Twelve people attended the Monday meeting, meaning at least seven people voted against the motion.

Among key agenda items were a plan to raise the cap on gifts given to civil servants, teachers and journalists 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.

The commission is also said to be weighing in on the option to lower the limit for receiving cash for a wedding or funeral from 100,000 won to 50,000 won. The antigraft law, which went into effect on Sept. 28, 2016, is also known as the Kim Young-ran Act, after a former chief of the commission who authored its initial draft. Workers in the agricultural and livestock industries have often complained of plummeting sales, as their luxurious gift sets exceeded the 50,000 won threshold.

Home to nearly 2,500 abalone farms and 40 distributing companies, Wando County, South Jeolla, was among the first to be hit.

“We’re really desperate,” said Lee Jeong-gwang, 52, vice president of the Korea Abalone Fisheries Union Corporation. “We’re at a loss trying to come up with a way to sell the seafood, which already is expensive enough.”

Lee Jong-gwan, 38, owner of a hanwoo (Korean beef) store in Daegu, said it was impossible to make a gift set with his products under 50,000 won. “The government is trying to promote local beef but is actually persuading customers to buy imports.”

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