CHUNGJU, South Korea, Oct. 7 (Korea Bizwire) – Korea’s new anti-graft law is prompting public officials to dine alone, exercising maximum caution out of fear that the slightest misunderstanding could have severe negative repercussions.
The trend has been seen particularly among those living alone, separated from their families by work, who would usually spend their after-work hours dining with colleagues or other acquaintances.
Among them is a police chief from Chungju Police Station, who lives apart from his family in Cheongju.
Since the law’s implementation, he’s either headed straight to his quarters after work for dinner with quick take-out food like gimbap, or taken advantage of the station’s dining facility.
Although as the chief, he ought to arrange occasional dinner outings with his junior staff, he has refrained from all appointments that involve eating or drinking with both his colleagues and outsiders.
“I understand that it’s okay to have dining appointments as long as I abide by the legal guidelines, but I find myself avoiding the circumstances altogether, as I’m worried about any misconceptions,” he said. “However, I do see some departments collecting money from each other so they don’t have to pitch in every time they eat out together.”
Another public official from Chungju City Hall has also found himself eating alone more frequently since the law took effect. He’s been making persistent efforts to avoid encounters with outsiders after work hours to not leave behind the slightest trail that could lead to his disadvantage.
The same applies for an officer at Danyang County Office, who decided to take a cooking class despite his lack of interest in the field prior to the law’s introduction. He now cooks himself his dinner almost every night in his government quarters.
Nonetheless, the changing dining culture has also brought about an unexpected, yet positive side effect: people seem to be finding themselves with more spare time given the lack of obligatory work dinners.
The Korean custom that encourages heavy drinking at frequent after-work get-togethers seems to be on the outs amid anti-graft law fears, and some are welcoming the change, using their extra free time to discover new hobbies.
“Most of the nights that we work overtime, we just eat at the cafeteria,” said an official from Cheongju District Prosecutor’s Office. “But on days that we finish early, it’s more or less everyone pursuing their own pastime.”
Violating the law is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment or 30 million won in fines, for those who accept over 1 million won (each) or 3 million won (annual total) in meals, gifts, or congratulatory and condolence money. Those accepting less than these thresholds will be fined a penalty of up to five times the value of the received items.
By Lina Jang (firstname.lastname@example.org)