South Korea

   

Executive Accountability

#29
Key Findings
Though its years of scandal and presidential impeachment are now behind it, South Korea still falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 29) with regard to executive accountability. Its score on this measure represents an improvement of 0.2 points relative to 2014.

The massive public protests that led to President Park’s impeachment revealed a high level of political information and interest among the public. However, many remain poorly informed about actual policy details. Traditional media provide superficial political coverage, propagating extreme partisan content as a means of securing subscribers and viewers.

Though often overburdened, parliamentarians have fairly large staffs and substantial oversight powers. Government institutions have become more cooperative in response to parliamentary requests. The audit office is accountable to the president. A civil-rights commission serves an ombuds role, and the Personal Information Protection Commission addresses personal-data policies.

Parties are typically organized in a top-down fashion, often led by a few powerful individuals. Both business and labor groups have had influence under the Moon administration. Civil society groups have provided a pool of experts for the Moon administration, though this has to some extent undermined their ability to criticize the government.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#19

To what extent are citizens informed of public policies?

10
 9

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


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


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

Most citizens are not aware of public policies.
Political Knowledge
7
The candlelight revolution of 2016 – 2017 revealed a high level of political information and interest among the Korean public. 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 many government policies. Political discussions are often conducted emotionally, and are focused on personalities rather than policy. 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 immense pressure to do well on exams in schools and at universities has left political education and discussions underdeveloped. The low level of trust in government announcements and in the mainstream media provides fertile ground for the dissemination of rumors. Misinformation spreads quickly in Korea, as was evident in the online campaigns against refugees from Yemen. The discussion about refugees also revealed that the public generally knows less about international topics or the international context than it does about purely domestic subjects. 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/

Does the government publish data and information in a way that strengthens citizens’ capacity to hold the government accountable?

10
 9

The government publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 8
 7
 6


The government most of the time publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 5
 4
 3


The government publishes data in a limited and not timely or user-friendly way.
 2
 1

The government publishes (almost) no relevant data.
Open Government
8
According to the Open Government Partnership (2018), “the disclosure and usage of public data could make a big impact such as enhancing government transparency, delivering effective and efficient services to public and contributing to the nation’s economic growth.” Korea ranks at the top or near the top of OECD countries on the OECD’s OUR Data Index, which examines the issue of open, usable and reusable government data. A government information portal has been introduced to provide access to government data and information. However, some institutions have proved uncooperative in providing access to information requested by members of the public, making the government less accountable.

Citations:
OECD, Government at a Glance 2017 Database, OUR Data Index
The Government of Republic of Korea. 2017. “100 Policy Tasks: Five-year Plan of the Moon Jae-in Administration.” Korean Culture and Information Service: Seoul.
Open Government Partnership. 2018. “10 Open National Priority Data.” Retrieved November 7 (https://www.opengovpartnership.org/countries/south-korea).
www.open.go.kr

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#19

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 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. Tight schedules and the record-high number of agencies monitored by the National Assembly have generated skepticism regarding the effectiveness of legislative oversight. Observers familiar with parliamentary affairs have voiced concern that parliamentary audits are inevitably superficial, as lawmakers have little time to study dossiers thoroughly or prepare their questions. Moreover, some lawmakers lack the capacity and willingness to monitor government activities effectively.

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 request 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. Under the Moon government, government institutions have become more cooperative in response to parliamentary committees’ document requests.

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. In many cases, opposition parties summon irrelevant ministers simply as a means of furthering political confrontation with the president.

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. The Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil scandals generally strengthened parliamentary committees, as refusals to attend or false testimony are now more commonly subject to punishment. According to the Act on Testimony, Appraisal, etc., Before the National Assembly (2017):
“any witness who fails to attend, any witness who intentionally evades the service of a written request for attendance, any person who refuses a request for reporting or presentation of documents, or any witness or appraiser who refuses an oath, testimony or appraisal, without any justifiable ground, shall be punished by imprisonment with labor for not more than three years or by a fine of not less than 30 million won but not more than 10 million won.”

Citations:
ACT ON TESTIMONY, APPRAISAL, ETC. BEFORE THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, Act No. 14757, Mar. 21, 2017 https://elaw.klri.re.kr/eng_service/lawView.do?hseq=42837&lang=ENG

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. As of October 2019, there were 18 standing committees and one ad hoc committee tasked with examining bills and petitions falling under their respective jurisdictions and with performing 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.).

Media

#8

To what extent do media in your country analyze the rationale and impact of public policies?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies. 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 public policies. 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, which renders 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 the area of political journalism. Newspapers and TV rely heavily on advertising revenues. Most prominent TV stations produce a mix of infotainment and quality information about government policies. Information on international events in particularly receives little coverage in the Korean news media. The major newspapers clearly lean to the political right, although alternatives do exist. Traditional media such as newspapers and broadcasting outlets are aggravating the situation by providing superficial, short-term-focused coverage, and by propagating extreme partisan content as a means of securing subscribers and viewers. The headlines given to newspaper editorials are becoming increasingly provocative, while broadcasters are treating current-affairs news into entertainment. People describing important social issues in conspiratorial terms are being given an increasing public platform in the media. The internet news sector is dominated by two major news portals, Naver and Daum, although there are alternatives such as Newstapa, an investigative journalism network. In general, political reporting tends to be framed in the context of personalized power politics, diverting attention away from important policy issues. The recent scandals surrounding former Justice Minister Cho Kuk illustrated this focus on personalities, as supporters and opponents of President Moon focused on personally attacking each other instead of addressing the underlying political issue of judiciary reform.

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).
Newstapa, https://newstapa.org/
Han-yong Sung, “The Crisis in the South Korean Press: What Should Be Done?,” East Asia Foundation Policy Debates, No. 127 (November 05, 2019).

Parties and Interest Associations

#21

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 issue agendas 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 issue agendas 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 issue agendas are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Decision-Making
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. Parties are organized in a top-down fashion, and typically led by a few powerful individuals (who may or may not hold official party offices). Parties often disband, rename and regroup around these leaders without the comprehensive involvement of members. In general, ordinary party members have very little say. While the selection of presidential candidates has become more democratic since the introduction of the primary system in 2015, issue-oriented participation by party members remains anemic, and party organizations remain weak. Only some of the smaller parties not represented in the parliament, such as the Green Party, are organized in a bottom-up way. Organizing local party chapters remains illegal in Korea, making it almost impossible to build grassroots organizations. Due to their focus on personalities, parties tend to be ill-prepared to govern, and thus depend on co-opting political outsiders that have little experience in the political arena.

To what extent are economic interest associations (e.g., employers, industry, labor) 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 (Employers & Unions)
7
Business associations such as the Korean Employers Federation and the Federation of Korean Industries, as well as labor-union umbrella groups such as the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), 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 their most powerful members – that is, business conglomerates 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. Under the Moon administration, the influence of business groups has remained strong, if somewhat contradictory. Labor organizations have come to wield considerable power in formulating major social and economic policies, thanks to the Moon government’s more labor-friendly stance.

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)
6
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. Unfortunately, this increased level of influence has to some extent undermined their ability to criticize the government. For example, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy has lost some of its independence, acting to suppress internal criticism of key former members who had become members of the government, such as former Blue House Secretary and Justice Minister Cho Kuk. Highly competent international NGOs such as Transparency International, Amnesty International and Save the Children are also playing an increasingly prominent role in their respective fields.

Independent Supervisory Bodies

#40

Does there exist an independent and effective audit office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent audit office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent audit office, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent audit office, but its role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an independent and effective audit office.
Audit Office
2
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 the 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. In its revised constitutional-reform bill, the Moon government too has proposed making the audit office independent.

Does there exist an independent and effective ombuds office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an effective and independent ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
5
The South Korean parliament does not have an ombudsman office but the Ombuds Office of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission of Korea (ACRC) may be seen as a functional equivalent to a parliamentary ombuds office. The Improper Solicitation and Graft Act, which was initiated by the ACRC, has had a huge impact in changing the culture. The commission’s independence is guaranteed by law, but the standing members of the commission are all appointed by the president. Most ACRC members are drawn from the legal profession, which could limit its ability to serve proactively and independently as an ombuds office in diverse areas. 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:
Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission of Korea (ACRC), www.acrc.go.kr
Office of the Foreign Investment Ombudsman, ombudsman.kotra.or.kr

Is there an independent authority in place that effectively holds government offices accountable for handling issues of data protection and privacy?

10
 9

An independent and effective data protection authority exists.
 8
 7
 6


An independent and effective data protection authority exists, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


A data protection authority exists, but both its independence and effectiveness are strongly limited.
 2
 1

There is no effective and independent data protection office.
Data Protection Authority
5
South Korea’s comprehensive Personal Information Protection Commission was established on 30 September 2011, and aims to protect the privacy rights of individuals by deliberating on and resolving personal data-related policies. Data protection is regulated by the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). Compared to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), data protection rules are weak, and the issue remains a problem particularly in the private sector. For example, PIPA lacks the right to be forgotten and the right to refuse profiling. Maximum fines for violations are also much lower in Korea, set at €40,000 as compared to €20 million under the GDPR. Data security in the private sector remains a significant problem in Korea, where companies have been slow to adapt to international security and encryption standards. In November 2019, Korea started a trial run of an “open banking” system that would make it easier and cheaper for financial institutions to exchange information; however, some observers have raised concerns about the potential for data leaks.
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