South Korea

   

Executive Accountability

#23
Key Findings
With scandal and presidential impeachment now behind it, South Korea falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 23) with regard to executive accountability. Its score on this measure represents an improvement of 0.3 points relative to 2014.

Public activism surged to high levels as millions of Koreans participated in the protests that led to President Park’s impeachment. However, many remain poorly informed about actual policy details. Some mass-media outlets produce biased reports, but the media played a key role in uncovering the Park scandals.

Though often overburdened, parliamentarians have fairly large staffs and substantial oversight powers. The audit office is accountable to the president, with calls outstanding to make it independent or subject to the legislature instead. A civil-rights commission serves some ombuds role, and Moon has promised to make it more independent.

Political parties used a variety of means to select their 2017 nominee. Business organizations have had significant policy influence, but the biggest business lobby group has been badly tainted by its role in the influence-peddling scandals. Civil society played a key role in mobilizing the massive street protests, and provided a pool of experts for the new administration.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#22

To what extent are citizens informed of government policymaking?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of government policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual government policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of government policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of government policies.
Policy Knowledge
7
The 2017 presidential elections saw a slight increase in voter turnout to 77.2%. More importantly, the degree of public engagement and public protest directed against President Park revealed a great interest in political events. Millions of Koreans participated in the protests that led to Park’s impeachment. While most were spontaneous protesters, there was a great deal of organization involved in these protests. In particular, it is remarkable that many young people and students participated in the protests. Nevertheless, many citizens remain poorly informed about the details of most government policies. The level of public knowledge can vary across different sectors and policies. For example, the Seoul Metropolitan Government conducted a public survey in May 2017 with a sample of 2,500 adults residing in Seoul seeking to gauge public opinion on Seoul’s “Sharing City” policy. Given that the awareness rate was 49.3%, only one out of every two Seoul citizens had heard of the policy.

Despite the access to information provided by online platforms such as Sinmungo and the government’s Policy Briefing webpage (www.korea.kr), the quality of information available remains limited. In the media, political questions are often personalized and interpreted as power struggles between ambitious individuals, rather than as struggles about policies as such. In addition, the spectrum of published political opinions remains very narrow, limiting the scope of political discussion and making it hard for citizens to develop their own opinion. The low level of trust in government announcements and in the mainstream media provides fertile ground for the dissemination of rumors. Fake news sources further distort the truth. However, numerous NGOs and enlightened netizens, acting on behalf of citizens, are playing a pivotal role in monitoring the public and private sectors by getting and sharing information from the government.

Citations:
Korea Center for Freedom of Information and Transparent Society at http://www.opengirok.or.kr/
Share Hub. One out of every two Seoul citizens has heard of “Sharing City” policy – results of a survey of the public awareness of Sharing City Seoul policy. July 19, 2016
http://english.sharehub.kr/one-out-of-every-two-seoul-citizens-has-heard-of-sharing-city-policy-results-of-a-survey-of-the-public-awareness-of-sharing-city-seoul-policy/

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#33

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
6
Members of parliament (MPs) have a staff of nine, including four policy experts, three administrative staffers and two interns. Given the large quantity of topics covered, this staff is scarcely sufficient, but is enough to cover legislators’ main areas of focus. The National Assembly monitors the administration through a system of investigation relating to issues of national affairs. Monitoring efforts can be regular or sparked by specific events. The constitution provides the National Assembly with the authority to conduct inspections of government offices. While this investigation process is a powerful tool, some observers have criticized it as ineffective and time-consuming, in part because it is too widely used. The ruling and opposition parties often use inspections as political weapons against one another. For instance, while the Democratic Party attempted used investigations to criticize the Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak administrations, the Liberty Korea Party has criticized the Moon administration for being incompetent in security matters. Some lawmakers also use this process to promote their own political fortunes in the mass media. The effectiveness of parliamentarians’ monitoring role largely depends on each lawmaker’s individual capabilities. For example, Kim Jong-dae has been viewed as an effective watchdog overseeing the Ministry of Defense, even though he is a lawmaker from a minority party, the Justice Party.

Tight schedules and the record-high number of agencies monitored by the National Assembly have generated skepticism regarding the effectiveness of legislative audits, one of the body’s key functions. Observers familiar with parliamentary affairs have voiced concern that these inspections are inevitably superficial, as lawmakers have little time to study dossiers thoroughly or prepare their questions.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not ask for government documents.
Obtaining Documents
8
Parliamentary committees are legally able to obtain the documents they request from the government. The government, including governmental agencies and public institutions, is required to deliver these documents within 10 days of a request from a member of the National Assembly. Documents pertaining to commercial information or certain aspects of national security can be withheld from the parliament. Moreover, problematic issues do arise in the process of requesting documents. For example, because of the frequency of requests from parliamentarians, there have been numerous cases reported in which agency officials have had to work overtime to meet the document requests.

Parliamentarians can also summon the officials concerned as witnesses. However, bureaucrats are sometimes reluctant to offer the documents and information requested in an effort to protect their organizational interests. The inability to override witnesses’ refusal to answer questions remains an issue that must be addressed. Under current law, the National Assembly can ask prosecutors to charge those who refuse to take the witness stand with contempt of parliament. However, this carries only light penalties, such as fines. The National Assembly should work to reform the hearing system to make it a more effective tool in probing cases of national importance.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
9
The parliament has the constitutional right to summon ministers to appear before parliamentary hearings, and indeed frequently exercises this right. Regular investigation of government affairs by parliament is an effective means of monitoring ministers. Almost every minister has been summoned to answer parliamentarians’ questions in the context of a National Assembly inspection. However, the role of the minister in the South Korean system is relatively weak, with the professional bureaucracy trained to be loyal to the president. In addition, the ruling party and ministers can agree not to invite ministers or to cancel hearings on politically controversial issues.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
8
Parliamentary committees are legally able to, and frequently do, invite experts to parliamentary hearings. Following the Choi Sun-sil scandal, some big-business (chaebol) representatives were summoned multiple times. There have been several cases where civilian experts have refused to attend these hearings.
However, the public parliamentary hearings on the Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil scandals served to change the old informal rules, and many figures who refused to attend the hearings or repeatedly gave false testimony have been punished by law.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
9
The task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries mostly correspond. There are 16 standing committees that examine bills and petitions falling under their respective jurisdictions and perform other duties as prescribed by relevant laws. With the exception of the House Steering Committee and the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, the task areas of these parliamentary committees correspond with the ministries. As a consequence of the strong majoritarian tendency of the political system, committees dominated by the governing parties tend to be softer on the monitoring of ministries, whereas committees led by opposition parliamentarians are more confrontational. However, in general, the legislature is a “committee parliament” and the committees are quite effective and efficient.

Citations:
The National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, http://korea.na.go.kr/int/org_06.jsp
Croissant, Aurel 2014. Das Politische System Südkoreas, in: Derichs, Claudia/Heberer, Thomas (Hrsg.), Die politischen Systeme in Ostasien, 3., überarbeitete Auflage, Wiesbaden (i.E.).

To what extent is the audit office accountable to the parliament?

10
 9

The audit office is accountable to the parliament exclusively.
 8
 7
 6


The audit office is accountable primarily to the parliament.
 5
 4
 3


The audit office is not accountable to the parliament, but has to report regularly to the parliament.
 2
 1

The audit office is governed by the executive.
Audit Office
5
The Board of Audit and Inspection is a national-level organization tasked with auditing and inspecting the accounts of state and administrative bodies. It is a constitutional agency that is accountable to the president. It regularly reports to the parliament. The National Assembly regularly investigates the affairs of the audit office, as it does with other ministries. Demands to place the audit office under the leadership of National Assembly, thus strengthening the institution’s autonomy, have gained parliamentary support. However, tired of repeated political gridlocks and political confrontations, civil-society organizations have instead proposed making the audit office independent.

Does the parliament have an ombuds office?

10
 9

The parliament has an effective ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

The parliament does not have an ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
3
The South Korean parliament does not have an ombudsman office. Under the Lee Myung-bak administration, the government’s ombudsman office was merged with the civil rights and anti-corruption agency into the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission of Korea (ACRC). This commission is accountable to the president and may to some degree be seen as a functional equivalent to a parliamentarian ombuds office. However, it seems that merging the two institutions (both under the authority of the president) has made the ombuds office less transparent. President Moon has promised a reform of the ACRC, part of which will include increasing its independence. People can also petition the government directly without approaching the parliament or the ombudsman. A Foreign Investment Ombudsman (FIO) system hears complaints by foreign companies operating in Korea. The FIO is commissioned by the president on the recommendation of the Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy, via the deliberation of the Foreign Investment Committee. The FIO has the authority to request cooperation from the relevant administrative agencies and recommend the implementation of new policies to improve the foreign-investment promotion system. It can also carry out other tasks needed to assist foreign companies in resolving their grievances.

Citations:
Office of the Foreign Investment Ombudsman, http://www.i-ombudsman.or.kr/eng/au/index.jsp?num=3

Media

#7

To what extent do media provide substantive in-depth information on decision-making by the government?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
6
South Korea’s main media-related problem is the low quality of many outlets, rendering them unable to serve as facilitators of public debate or civic culture. Part of the problem here is the country’s strong commercialism and associated weakness in political journalism. While the most prominent TV stations produce a mix of infotainment and quality information about government policies, the last four years have seen TV and radio organizations further shift their programming in the direction of entertainment and infotainment. Political programs have either been replaced or their teams shuffled. Information on international events in particularly receives little coverage in the Korean news media. Moreover, some mass media outlets produce strongly politically biased reports, distorting the facts and obscuring the truth.

Nevertheless, the media played an important role in uncovering and reporting on the recent political scandals involving Choi Soon-sil and President Park Geun-hye. Several new-media organizations, including JTBC and the Chosun Broadcasting Company, investigated the case and helped uncover the evidence of corruption. The public movement that led to Park’s impeachment could not have been achieved without media reporting on the government’s abuses of power.

Citations:
Sang-young Rhyu, “McCarthyism in South Korea: The Naked Truth and History of Color Politics,” East Asia Foundation Policy Debates, No.68 (March 28, 2017).

Parties and Interest Associations

#25

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Democracy
5
There is almost universal agreement among political scientists, political observers, politicians and the general public that political parties are one of the weakest links in South Korean democracy. In 2015, both the governing and opposition parties decided to introduce an open-primary system to pick congressional candidates. This was expected to provide new challengers with a fairer and more transparent environment. However, in reality, “strategic” party nominations still played a strong role in both parties’ candidate selections during the 2016 parliamentary elections. For example, the governing party conspicuously favored candidates who supported former President Park. Parties have also introduced other nomination mechanisms such as the use of opinion polls. During the selection process for presidential candidates in 2017, different parties adopted different nomination processes, ranging from open primaries (Democratic Party), a mixture of opinion polls and party delegates (Liberty Party), a mixture of open primaries and opinion polls (People’s Party), and a direct vote by party members (Justice Party). In this sense, voters had the choice not just between different candidates, but also between different selection systems. While the selection of presidential candidates is becoming more democratic, issue-oriented participation by normal citizens remains somewhat anemic and party organizations remain weak.

To what extent are economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Business)
7
Business associations such as the Korean Employers Federation and the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), as well as labor-union umbrella groups such as the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, have some expertise in developing policy proposals. They are supported by think tanks that provide scholarly advice. However, these groups are relatively weak in comparison to businesses themselves and company-level trade unions. Some individual businesses such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai have their own think tanks that produce high-quality research and are able to analyze and provide alternatives to government policies. Under the Park government, major business organizations supported by large conglomerates had significant influence over the formulation of policies. The FKI has faced a period of serious crisis following the influence-peddling scandal involving former President Park. Park had tried to build a hub of conservative pro-government groups using funds from the FKI. Recently exposed information has shown that the FKI pledged to provide KRW 950 million in 2015 and KRW 800 million in 2016 earmarked for this purpose.

Citations:
Hankook Ilbo. Park attempted to build a hub of conservative groups by funding of FKI. November 9, 2017. http://www.hankookilbo.com/v/22464dde0fa5497b9049eade8df88508

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
5
The rise of civil-society organizations has been one of the last decade’s most important political trends in South Korea. The massive peaceful protests against President Park were largely organized by civil-society groups that have proven their ability to mobilize the public and their competence in organizing peaceful protests on a massive scale. Some of the largest NGOs, such as the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement, the Citizen Coalition for Economic Justice and the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, have built up considerable expertise in specialized fields such as environmental policies, electoral reform, corporate reform, welfare policies or human rights. They provide reasonable policy proposals and are supported by a large group of academics and professionals. They also provide a pool of experts for the government. President Moon has appointed several former members of civil-society groups to government positions.
The majority of small NGOs remain focused on service provision and do not develop policy proposals. Previously, civil society and NGOs – especially those to the left of center – found it difficult to have any appreciable influence on decision-making under either the Lee and Park administrations. NGOs are expected to regain some of their previous influence under the Moon government.
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