|A screen capture of a petition uploaded on Cheong Wa Dae website, calling for a probe into lawmakers. (Cheong Wa Dae/The Korea Herald)|
As of early Tuesday, more than 90,000 people had signed a petition on the Cheong Wa Dae website, requesting an official investigation into lawmakers suspected of unethical conduct. The petition was launched the previous day.
When an online Cheong Wa Dae petition gains more than 200,000 signatures in less than a month, an official response from the presidential office is required within 30 days.
Kim Ki-sik, who was appointed head of the Financial Supervisory Service on April 2, faced pressure to step down when opponents discovered that he had gone on multimillion-won business trips in 2014 and 2015, bankrolled by the very institutions he was supposed to oversee as a lawmaker.
Kim also donated 50 million won ($47,000) to an association of Democratic Party lawmakers, named The Better Future, right before his term as a lawmaker expired.
President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday formally accepted Kim’s offer to resign. Moon had previously said he would dismiss Kim, if any of Kim’s controversial actions as a lawmaker were found to have violated laws.
The National Election Commission concluded Monday that the former legislator had breached the law in 2016 when the donation was delivered to The Better Future.
Cheong Wa Dae also looked into similar cases of foreign trips taken by lawmakers across party lines in which travel expenses were funded by institutions over which they exercised oversight.
After randomly selecting 16 institutions, without naming them, it discovered a total of 167 such overseas trips. Of the 167, 65 trips were taken by lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party, while 94 were taken by lawmakers of the major opposition Liberty Korea Party.
That puts the Liberty Korea Party in a bind considering it slammed Kim and defined his foreign trips as a form of bribery and abuse of power.
If an investigation against the lawmakers is launched, experts say that it may allow one branch of the government to exercise excessive power vis-a-vis another government branch.
“The question for the moment is how much the government has authority over the parliament under the ‘trias politica system,’” said Seol Dong-hoon, a sociology professor at Chonbuk National University.
Seol added that although transparency is needed in the use of political funds, balance among the executive, legislative and judicial branches within the federal government is crucial to prevent worse corruption.
Some called for reforms that could impose new disclosure requirements on lawmakers regarding their travel tab.
“The purpose of lawmakers’ overseas trips is for public service, therefore, travel records including the cost of the trip should be automatically disclosed to the public,” said Shin Yool, a social science professor at Myongji University.
By Jung Min-kyung (firstname.lastname@example.org)