Fighting Corruption With Bounty Hunters

The Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2012

What would you do if you spotted corruption?

The Anti-Corruption & Civil Rights Commission on Sunday announced that it would expand its incentive system to encourage whistleblowing.

In one example, the agency revealed that it paid 500,000 won to a clerk at a bakery who reported a customer who ordered a cake and asked that it be delivered to a teacher with an envelope containing 500,000 won ($440).

Some worry, however, that the government depends too much on the self-appointed "bounty hunters," rather than strengthening law enforcement and creating a law-abiding atmosphere.

In South Korea, it's been several years since such a reward policy created a new profession of professional whistleblowers. Armed with hidden cameras and voice recorders, these people spend their time hunting for rule-breakers. They report a wide range of infractions, such as traffic violations and illegal dumping of industrial waste.

"In order to get rid of corruption in our society, we need to, first of all, weed out minor irregularities… and the agency is going to expand the reward system for the brave to encourage voluntary reporting about corruption activities," the agency said in the statement.

But the move runs counter to a recent announcement by the Prime Minister.

That office sought to modify current laws to deter professional whistleblowers from going after a minor law offender too aggressively. It introduced several measures to that effect, including placing caps on the awards a whistleblower can accumulate and paying 20% of any reward through gift cards rather than cash.

"There is a need for a change in our law since small business owners' livelihood are seriously damaged by a professional bounty hunter who reports even a slightest infraction," Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik said on March 29.

There are rewards for 970 different kinds of infractions, according to the Prime Minister's office.

Jaeyeon Woo


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