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[Opinion] Korea’s Own Rule of Law

Posted May. 31, 2006 03:00,   


The government seems to be determined to go to war with a tenants’ association of an apartment complex after having triggered controversy over housing bubbles. The Ministry of Construction and Transportation said that they were pushing for the revision of a related law to prosecute members of the tenants’ association who were caught trying to consult together to fix their housing prices.

The government’s move is attributable to its perception that such behavior from a tenants’ association is contributing to increased prices of some apartments in the metropolitan area. But there is doubt in society over whether such drastic action is needed to reign in housing prices, and whether it will actually work.

In fact, the legal circles are skeptical about the move, saying that it is difficult to set the specific standards of illegal consultation and to secure evidence. Some in the circles also argue that tenants’ associations are not a group of businesses but a social gathering. Therefore, their behaviors should not be viewed as an illegal consultation, but a group action. In other words, they could be charged a fine but not subject to legal sanction.

The Ministry is bending on regulations, crackdowns, and punishment rather than on improvement in institutions. Should we call it an innovative ministry or an outdated ministry?

The Ministry of Education and Human Resources has sent an official document to 16 education offices. The document asked them to report when a journalist collects data at school or classrooms without the permission from the head of the school, or if parents make trouble at school. The idea of solving problems at school with extreme measures like reporting smacks of a ministry leading the “culture” of the current government. It also seems that this will be likely to be abused as a tool to stop journalists from covering what schools want to cover up, including bribery and school violence.

Every time Korea’s national competitiveness is measured, its weak rule of law is pointed out. According to last year’s World Bank report, Korea ranked 60th out of 209 countries in national competitiveness. However, It ranked 66th in the rule of law, below the average of Korea’s performance in other areas. It was pointed out that awareness of laws was low and execution was not consistent. In one case, the government passed off an illegal, violent demonstration. In another, it tried to break the principle to prohibit retroactive application of laws. The government is soft when they should be strict, while they become harsh for their interest. “Their own rule of law” will perhaps leave them abandoned by the public in the end.

Song Young-eon, Editorial Writer, youngeon@donga.com