[EDITORIALS]Reform the farm co-opsThe reform of agricultural cooperatives has become an issue again. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry showed the will to reform the system drastically in its report on this year’s policy to the Blue House.
Agricultural cooperatives have been harshly criticized for their inefficiency and loose management. Some have criticized them as unconcerned about farmers, but deeply concerned about the interests of their own staff members. Some have called the cooperatives a hotbed of corruption or a safety zone from reform. As a result, farmers no longer trust agricultural cooperatives, although they were founded for the sake of farmers. Members’ representatives voted to dissolve one agricultural cooperative in Paju, Gyeonggi province. Members seceded en masse from a cooperative in North Gyeongsang province.
Though the government has pumped tens of trillions of won into farm villages, they are still impoverished and farmers are groaning under heavy debts. Agricultural cooperatives, which alone manage agricultural policy funds and supervise the distribution network for farm products, are primarily responsible for such conditions. Their reform should not be delayed, so that we can rescue farm villages and farmers in trouble.
The reforms should begin with systemic ones. The elected heads of agricultural cooperatives assume all the management rights. They have strong powers, including ones to hire and fire. Eager for power, many candidates for regional cooperative offices don’t hesitate to do things like buy votes. The corruption in election campaigns brings about corrupt management when those candidates are elected. To break the vicious circle, the management of an agricultural cooperative should be entrusted to a professional who should be held responsible for any mismanagement. Those who conduct tainted election campaigns should be punished, just like civic election abuses are punished. Uncompetitive cooperatives should be closed or merged.
Such reforms have been tried before, but failed, because of opposition by local Assembly representatives. But now, reform is not an option but an imperative. If this attempt fails, the cooperatives will be in danger, as will the future of our agricultural sector.