KOREA (SOUTH): Big fines set for toxic chemical leaks

Members of the judiciary subcommittee of the National Assembly approved the bill to revise the Toxic Substances Management Law. Currently, companies responsible for toxic chemical leaks face up to a 50 million won fine.

A group of opposition lawmakers submitted the bill to the committee on 5 April 2013. Rep. Han Jeong-ae of the main opposition Democratic Party, who submitted the revised bill, said it was crucial to prevent accidents from happening. Originally, she sought to slap a fine of up to 10 % of corporate revenue on offenders.

"The National Assembly is obliged to protect people's lives, and to legislate the revised bill is the way. I strongly ask the legislation committee to pass it as soon as possible,” said the one-term lawmaker who previously worked as a labor activist.

Despite the passage of the bill by the subcommittee, it is uncertain whether it will be legislated as it has to pass the National Assembly Judiciary Committee before being put to a vote at a plenary session of parliament.

Some lawmakers from the governing Saenuri Party in the legislation committee are opposing the bill, saying the punishment is too harsh. They seek to lower the maximum fine to 1 - 3 % of a company's revenue.

"The 5 % rule is too heavy on companies. It could cause a business to declare bankruptcy due to the fine,” said Ahn Cheong-mo, an aide of Rep. Kwon Seong-dong, a committee member from the ruling party.

Ahn said the revised bill is supposed to punish a company to change their wrongdoing, but could kill their business.

The governing party legislators also argue they need to change clauses which can punish executives of a company with more than three years in jail and impose fines on them of up to 1 billion won.

Source: Daily "The Korea Times", Seoul; 6 May 2013(Syed Rashid Ali, Karachi, Pakistan)