Sunday, April 24, 2005

Taxing bribes: Korea's solution to corruption

Saturday's Korea Times reported that the income tax laws are being revised to "levy taxes on bribes that are found to be taken."

I started by simply being a little shocked by the article (but only a little, I've been here a while) and it took a while to find my specific concern in the article. It's in the "...that are found..." part.

I guess I thought if the politician were found to have taken a bribe, he or she would be criminally punished and the real problem would be learning about the bribes in the first place. I hope there is already some form of punishment for officials when they are found to be taking bribes; is this just another, additional punishment?

From the article:
Under the revision, politicians and public officials
who receive money as bribes or for influence-peddling
are subject to pay income tax on the bribes.

Currently, bribes for politicians and officials
are not the subjects of taxation.

``The current law is so unfair in that ordinary
people are subject to pay taxes on bribes they
take, but politicians are not,'' said Rep. Song
Young-gil of the ruling Uri Party who served
as a member of the subpanel of the National
Assembly's Finance-Economy Committee.

The Supreme Court has already ruled that
bribes and income from influence-peddling
are subject to taxation, despite confiscation
or penalty tax, he said.

So, 'ordinary people' have to pay tax on their bribes already. Does this include professors, for example? (By the way, I'm clean by ethical choice and by circumstance; who'd want to bribe a conversation instructor, when the university pumps up the marks already?)

It was explained to me once that bribes are very common here and called 'Lunch money' or 'apple boxes' (사과상자). Actually taxing the bribe reminds me of the first time I saw the word 'kleptocracy'. The author had to pay a bribe, so he asked, and got, a receipt for his expense account.

I really can't say whether taxing bribes is a step forward or not, but I guess it evens the paying field between politicians and 'ordinary people'.

Finally, a minor quibble, a small editing flame:

Meanwhile, an ad hoc advisory committee on
political reform under the National Assembly
speaker said that it is considering revising the
Political Fund Law to allow individuals or
supporter groups to donate up to
300 million won ($300 million)
to a lawmaker a year.

I'm very excited to hear that 300 million won equals 300 million dollars!

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