‘Accident-prone Korail tried to gag whistleblower‘
By Park Si-soo
The operator of Korea’s rail network, Korail, has received a strong warning for trying to silence whistleblowers from an anti-corruption watchdog.
According to a check by The Korea Times, out of 45,000 irregularity cases published last week by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC), six cases of disciplining six whistleblowers were noted ㅡ with Korail being the only to be identified in court cases.
This is the first issuance of such information since the Protection of Public Interest Whistleblowers Act was passed six months ago.
The agency stated that Shin Chun-soo, a 43-year-old Korail engineer, was sacked in August last year for providing the media with a classified photo showing the exact cause of frequent breakdowns of the KTX-Sancheon bullet train.
Before the photo’s release Korail, which operates the KTX, cited overheated engines as the major cause of the high-speed train’s frequent malfunctions, denying the possibility of faulty machinery.
However, Shin’s photo of a smoke-filled engine room clearly showed several broken engine parts, leaving no room for Korail to avoid public condemnation. Several Korail officials were reprimanded for lying to the public, yet it fell short of reversing Shin’s dismissal.
The whistleblower protection law provides him with a ray of hope. The ACRC acknowledged him as a whistleblower for the public interest in December on the basis of the law and ordered Korail to rehire him.
The ACRC’s decision is legally binding. In an angry reaction, Korail refused to accept it and took the case to the court.
“Korail is intentionally prolonging the process to settle my case in a bid to make me exhausted and voluntarily drop the bid to return to the company,” Choi said. “This is also seen as part of efforts to prevent the emergence of second and third whistleblowers against the firm.”
The Korea Times tried to identify organizations involved in the remaining five cases, but the ACRC refused to provide names, saying its investigation into the cases is underway.
“The whistleblower protection law is designed to ensure the stability of people’s living,” an ACRC official said. “It also aims at establishing a transparent and clean society by protecting and supporting people who report deeds damaging to the public interest, and hose that pose a threat to people’s health and safety, the environment, consumers’ interests and fair competition.”
Under the law, the ACRC will pay a maximum 1 billion won as a reward for information that leads to a revenue increase in state or local government following an investigation.
The law mandates the ACRC to take all possible measures to prevent whistleblowers from suffering from any disadvantages following their reports. Violators of this rule may face imprisonment for up to three years or a maximum fine of 30 million won.
On top of this, the anti-corruption watchdog is also pushing forward with a plan to enact a new law, the Prevention of Illegal Solicitations and the Conflicts of Interest Act.
“In some cases, old customs rooted in cronyism and paternalism such as requesting special favors have hampered public officials’ efforts to perform their duties in a fair manner,” the watchdog said, highlighting the necessity of the law.
The envisioned legislation includes regulations addressing new issues such as a ban on the acceptance of undue requests, the operation of a solicitation declaration system, prior notification of the private interest of public officials, obligatory establishment of procedures for avoiding conflicts of interest, restrictions on money and real estate transactions with work-related people, control over increasing property holdings using insider information, and sanctions on violators.