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Ombudsmen tackle corruption

May 20,2017
Experts from the global ombudsman community have stressed the role of Korea’s Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission in the new administration’s campaign to overhaul institutions and eradicate corruption.

The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC) and the Ombudsman Commission of Gangwon provincial government jointly hosted the 2017 PyeongChang Global Ombudsman Conference from Wednesday to Friday. The conference, attended by more than 400 representatives from various ombudsman and anti-corruption institutions from around the world, marks the 20th anniversary of the Asian Ombudsman Association (AOA). The 15th general assembly of the AOA also took place in tandem with the conference.

Delegates from various institutions, including the International Ombusman Institute (IOI) and other regional ombusman and anti-corruption institutions, participated in the event, which has the theme “Past, Present and Future Perspective of Asian Ombudsman.”

One of the key topics addressed at the conference was the synergy effect created by integrating anti-corruption functions in the ombusman mandate. Korea is one of the few countries in which the ACRC serves both functions. The ACRC was launched in 2008 by merging the Ombudsman of Korea, the Korea Independent Commission against Corruption and the Administrative Appeals Commission.

In her opening speech, Diane Welborn, first vice president of the IOI, noted the effectiveness of the system, saying ombudsman organizations should fight corruption with transparency and rule of law, and praised the ACRC as a success.

“Anti-corruption work is ombudsman work,” she told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “Corruption takes resources from the common good and diverts them into the possession of a few. Many cases of corruption begin as simple complaints to an ombudsman about delays in services or the completion of projects. The investigation of these complaints then uncovers a spider-like network of corruption. The ombudsman’s responsibility to work for fair administration of government places the ombudsman in the forefront of the work against anti-corruption.”

Commissioner Against Corruption of Macau Cheong Weng Chon also promoted the dual function system, telling the JoongAng Daily that his organization has a similar system to Korea’s ACRC. To effectively perform its duties, he said, Macao’s institution must prove to be flexible.

“So far it has been proven that from the citizens’ point of view, to be convenient, the same institution must deal with both criminal and administrative investigations, and the fact is, a specific case may change between ombudsman and anti-corruption departments as it evolves. This proves once again the need to be flexible when dealing with citizens’ complaints.”

He added, “We believe that the existing cooperation level is essential to contribute to the promotion of fair and transparent societies in the region. We follow with upmost respect and admiration the work ACRC has been developing in Korea.”

Since the country introduced a new and extremely strict anti-graft law, the role of the ACRC has become even more important in Korean society. He also said the ACRC will play a role in the Moon Jae-in administration’s campaign to fight what Moon has termed “the accumulated evils of society.”

“Knowing the work of the ACRC in the ombudsman field, we believe, and are confident, that certainly there is a role for the ombudsman system in this campaign,” he said. “We are also confident that Korean society will recognize the relevance of ombudsman in this new era.”

“Those of us in the world-wide ombudsman community are not experts in the current Korean situation,” Welborn said. “However, the role of the ombudsman to work for fair administration and good governance from an impartial and independent position within government places an ombudsman office in a natural position to address anti-corruption work, and for that reason, the responsibility for anti-corruption work and integrity training have been a part of our responsibility in countries around the world.”

She added, “Some ombudsman offices may need increased powers and authority in order to effectively meet these responsibilities. It may be in the nature of fighting anti-corruption, which is a crime, that ombudsmen may require new powers or tools to effectively address those challenges.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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