Civic Groups Need a New Code of Conduct

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Civic Groups Need a New Code of Conduct

The ethics of civic groups have recently emerged as a controversial issue, particularly since Choi Yul, secretary general of the Korean Federation for the Environmental Movement (KFEM), became the target of criticism for his involvement with certain conglomerates as an outside director. Civic groups should seize this opportunity to free themselves from the influence of power and money. Only then can they avoid being dragged into a similar controversy in the future.

Civic group activists have experienced many years of lonely, difficult struggle. For over ten years, Choi Yul and other leaders have poured their own money into the movement to publicize the importance of the environment. Thanks to their efforts, the environmental movement has gained a high profile within Korean NGO circles. These leaders have been willing to endure economic hardships because of their devotion to the cause. However, now that civic movements have become important pressure groups playing the role of watchdogs in a number of areas, they can no longer be managed in the same way. Citizens and businesses must come forward and participate in the movement. The public must take the initiative in raising money and paying dues so that these groups can be free from the influence of power and money. Instead of offering only condemnation along the lines of "You too, citizens' groups? You who have always questioned the morality of others?" it is time that citizens took a real interest in how these organizations are managed.

The civic groups, for their part, should take a close look at themselves. Many people have noted the similarity between this case and that of former education minister Song Ja. In that instance civic groups clamored for the minister's resignation after it was discovered that he had been working as an outside director. Choi Yul has stated that his total salary of 5 million won per month earned as an outside director has either already been used for overseas study and scholarships for four KFEM staff or will be used for the same purpose in the future. He has also claimed that his case is totally different from that of former Minister Song Ja in that his stock options will only become effective three years from now.

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that this case has shaken the public's faith in the ethics of civic groups, something which is seen as one of their greatest assets and on which they have staked their reputations. If civic groups have something to clear up, they must do so. If they have something to apologize for, they must do that as well. Most importantly they need to formulate a new code of conduct for themselves.

by Bae Myong-bok

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