Kim Young-ran, left, chairwoman of Korea's Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, poses for a photograph with Huguette Labelle, chairwoman of the board of directors of Transparency International (TI), at TI's headquarters in Berlin, on March 22. / Courtesy of the ACRC
By Park Si-soo
Kim Young-ran, chairwoman of Korea’s Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC), made a rare overseas trip to European countries last week to promote the country’s anti-corruption campaign.
She visited five anti-corruption watchdogs and explained about how “active and resolute” Korea is when it comes to anti-corruption, ACRC officials said. The Supreme Court justice-turned-bureaucrat provided them with a first-hand presentation on the issue in an effort to iron out what she described as a “misunderstanding” of the country’s anti-corruption drive, they said.
Motivating her to make the trip was Korea’s biggest-ever fall in the world’s most creditable annual corruption index, released in December by the world’s largest anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI).
South Korea ranked 43rd among 183 countries in the 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), dropping four places from 2010.
“The result was a great embarrassment,” an ACRC official said, “since the index is believed to be the most creditable and is also distributed to institutions that analyze Korea’s politics, economy and society.”
The official said the country’s struggle to dispel corruption was largely overshadowed in 2010 and 2011 by major bribery and influence-peddling scandals.
The Berlin-based TI didn’t elaborate why. Instead, its Seoul office released a statement, saying the country’s lack in anti-corruption efforts was to blame for the drop.
“It was a predictable result,” said Kim Geo-sung, secretary-general of Transparency International Korea, referring to a series of criminal cases brought against business leaders, powerful politicians and ranking bureaucrats prosecuted for stashing away tens of billions of won in slush funds, money-for-influence deals and other illegal forms of under-the-table deals.
Kim has also accused the Seoul government of downscaling the country’s independent anti-corruption body, to which the government has strongly denied.
Underestimated anti-corruption drive
The ACRC said Kim’s visit to European watchdogs was to help resolve their “underestimated” recognition of Korea’s anti-corruption campaigns.
The five European watchdogs visited by the chairwoman were Transparency International, the Bertelsmann Foundation, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA), and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
The chairwoman met ranking officials of the institutes and spoke to them about Korea’s anti-corruption policies and activities, a move apparently aimed at trying to achieve a higher ranking for Korea in the 2012 CPI index.
She put emphasis on the country’s recent employment of the Act on the Protection of Public Interest Whistleblowers, according to officials. She also highlighted the government’s plan to enact a new law, the Act on the Prevention of Illegal Solicitations and the Conflicts of Interest, in her presentation, they added.
An ACRC official said the whistleblower protection law, which took effect in September, ensures the stability of people’s living and establishes a transparent and clean society by protecting and supporting those who report public interest-damaging deeds posing a threat to people’s health and safety, the environment, consumers’ interests and fair competition.
Under the law, the ACRC pays a maximum of 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.
During the trip, the chairwoman signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on cooperation with the IACA, which will pave the way for the two sides to bolster bilateral cooperation in the fields of education, training and research activities through a wide range of courses.
“To effectively respond to the phenomenon of corruption, which is becoming more complicated and diversifying, anti-corruption practitioners are required to develop a higher level of professionalism and increased capability,” Kim said at the MOU signing ceremony.
She also expressed hope that Korea’s adoption of the Integrity Assessment and the Corruption Impact Assessment will “harmonize” with the IACA’s expertise in anti-corruption education so that efforts of the two sides will contribute to the “further development” of anti-corruption strategies and policies around the world.
Under the MOU, the ACRC and IACA will step up bilateral cooperation in the areas of education, training and research activities through courses and seminars and also covers the sharing of information and resources as well as the exchange of human resources.
To that end, the ACRC plans to dispatch experts to the IACA so that they can take charge of developing curricula on Korea’s anti-corruption policies and giving lectures. It also agreed with the IACA to explore the possibility to design training programs tailored for public officials from Korea.
“We believe the implementation of the bilateral MOU will help both parties enhance knowledge and competence in anti-corruption training through learning, and increase contributions to the global fight against corruption,” she said.
Korea’s new integrity education center will open in Cheongju in September with the capacity of accommodating more than 7,200 trainees a year.
“As always, actions speak louder than words,” Kim told leaders of the European watchdogs, promising that her commission will make the utmost efforts to put all policies and programs presented into action through consistent joint efforts with them.