Civic Groups' Errant BehaviorQuestions have been asked after it came to light that the Citizens Coalition for Economic Justice, one of the leading Korean non-governmental organizations, sent official letters bearing expected amounts of donations to organizations in which the government has invested. This act comes as a bigger shock because the timing of the letters coincided with the CCEJ''s request for information on business expenses for the heads of those organizations.
The CCEJ has explained that the public firms requested official letters after they pledged donations and they had nothing to do with the investigations into their business accounts. Whatever excuse or explanation the civic group offers, we believe that asking public companies to donate money has damaged ethics, the very foundation for the existence of NGOs.
Can they criticize or lodge complaints against some companies'' irregularities while receiving money from them?
If we take a closer look, the unfortunate deviation of the CCEJ is a byproduct of the wobbly financial state that most domestic NGOs find themselves in.
The source of the civic groups'' immense influence, confirmed by their support during last year''s general elections, lies in their morality, neutrality and purity. To maintain these qualities, first and foremost, financial independence based on citizens'' voluntary participation must be guaranteed.
However, the reality is far from this ideal. In the case of the CCEJ, it boasts 15,000 members in Seoul, but only 3,000 of them are paying monthly fees. Even this number is shrinking in the wake of the recent economic downturn.
Still, we don''t believe that we can attribute such a phenomenon solely to the citizens'' lack of participatory spirit.
NGOs must ask themselves if they have invited citizens'' mistrust and indifference because they did not make sufficient efforts to regularly disclose why and how funds were raised and how they were used. Therefore it is urgent to come up with a systematic mechanism by revising the Act on Regulating Fund Raising, which is practically moribund, or introducing a new law.
This will allow civic groups meeting certain requirements to freely raise funds in exchange for a thorough disclosure and supervision as to how they are raised and used.
by Yang Byong-moo