[EDITORIALS]Keep an eye on the watchdogsThe Korean Federation of Environmental Movements, Korea’s leading environmental civic group, has reportedly forced businesses under its watch to buy merchandise from its affiliate. This is a serious incident that can shake the foundation of the civic movements that check and watch the power of both politicians and businessmen while advocating the interests of the public.
According to reports, the Echo Life Cooperative Association under the Environmental Federation sold 1,000 solar-battery charged flashlights to Korean Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. Ltd. and 300 to Posco, at a price of 30,000 won ($29) per piece over the past two years. It was also talking with automakers, Hyundai and Kia, for the sale of a large number of them.
It is problematic that the companies that bought the goods from the civic group are the ones that suffered from the federation’s protest rallies until recently. It must have been difficult for them to refuse to buy them. The Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. Ltd. was under intensive attack from environmentalists last year because it had a plan to build a nuclear waste plant in Buan. Posco suffered from protest rallies by environmentalists in July because of pollution in Gwangyang bay, where its steel mill is situated.
Choi Yeol, representative of the federation, resigned as chairman of the Echo Life Cooperative Association, taking the responsibility for the incident, and the association posted an apology on its Web site. But many civic groups worry that the incident could spread a sense of crisis among civic activists. They say that the forced sale undermined the morality of the civic movement. Even among civic groups, there is criticism that “they may be selling the environment for business,” and some call them scornfully, “environmental power.”
This is not the first time that civic groups deviated from their route. Some were criticized for accepting subsidies or financial help from the government or public enterprises. There were those who entered politics using civic activism as a stepping stone.
In a modern society, civic movements play the role of preventing corruption. For this, it is important that civic groups keep a distance from institutions that come under their watch. If civic groups pursue power, they will be degraded to hotbeds of corruption and people will turn a cold shoulder to Korea’s civic movements forever.