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Will North Korea ever implement its own version of the Kim Young Ran Act?

Seol Song Ah  |  2016-10-10 08:38

South Koreas Kim Young Ran Act (Improper Solicitation and Graft Act) took effect on September 28. Although there are concerns regarding an expected contraction in domestic consumption, the idea of laying strong foundations for greater transparency is in itself noteworthy. It represents a significant step forward for social progress if South Korean society enforces universal fairness through the implementation of the act.

The act stipulates that it is illegal to provide gifts costing more than 50,000 KRW (approx 45 USD) to those designated by the law, such as civil servants, even if they are intended as a token of gratitude or congratulations. Although there are worries that the act may damage healthy social relationships, the South Korean government is determined to dismantle chains of corruption within its society.

South Koreas implementation of the Kim Young Ran act indirectly draws attention to the endemic corruption of its northerly neighbor. In January, Transparency International categorized North Korea as "catastrophic" in terms of social integrity, giving it an 8 out of 100 score on the Corruption Perception Index. North Korea has held bottom place on the rankings for 5 years in a row, together with Somalia.

According to North Korean defectors, even large bribes are openly expected in society. All government officials, high-ranked, middle or low-ranked alike, seek private gain through the direct abuse of their power, openly asking for bribes of at least a few hundred dollars at a time.

"Lower ranking officials are required to bribe their seniors, and senior officials must offer up bribes to higher-level officials in the Party, Kim Seon Woo, a former high-ranking North Korean official who defected from South Pyongan Province in 2012 reported to Daily NK. If youre not good with your bribes, even if you became a cadre because of your good songbun (family political background and loyalty), at some point you may have your post withdrawn. 

"It was horrendous during the holiday seasons. You cant leave out a single cadre member including the provincial Party secretary, the provincial people's committee chairman, and especially the provincial head prosecutor. Kim added that especially in the case of the prosecutor, failure to pay up adequate bribes would promptly lead to a clamp down on money-making activities such as market sales and foreign currency-earning operations.

Hwang Chul, the former head of a foreign currency-earning company who defected from North Pyongan Province in 2014 also commented that, "Officials from the Ministry of State Security, especially the director and the vice director, most frequently ask for bribes, adding, The more powerful the official is, the more severe their requirements for bribery become, easily demanding at least 500 USD at a time as a matter of routine.

Consistent testimonies have also come from North Korean defectors stating that corruption is most prevalent in the same law enforcement organizations tasked with monitoring these illegal acts, and the law is now considered a mere 'facade' in North Korea. Defectors also point out that bribery has become more rampant under Kim Jong Uns reign of terror,' as officials capitalize on the frequent issuance of 'orders' and 'instructions' from the regime.

"If a trading company does not bribe the security agency at an appropriate time, the agency launches an investigation, Hwang added. They threaten to investigate illegal activities committed in the past, which can even include bribing the very same agency, as a means of pressuring them for payments.

"The agency forces individuals and enterprises to offer more bribes, and can then exploit the fact as more illegal actions are undertaken, providing pressure points for further extortion, Hwang noted. As a result, bribery in North Korea is ubiquitous and unavoidable."

Mr. Kim also noted that, "Owing to frequent instructions from Kim Jong Un, prosecutors have become more powerful as they actively take advantage of the situation by soliciting bribes in exchange for leniency. In North Korea where such 'orders' and 'instructions' emanate from those who uphold the law itself, corruption is not expected to disappear anytime soon."

"However, Kim Jong Un has shown little interest in such issues, even though his regime is little more than a 'bribery republic,' Kim said. In fact, these problems are unlikely to be addressed when the leader himself is the largest beneficiary of the corrupt system, he added.

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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