[Outlook]An audit board to be proud of
These days, there are many staff members on the Board of Audit and Inspection who miss the days under former Chairman Hahn Seung-hun. Hahn, who was the first secretary general under the auspices of the Kim Dae-jung government, is widely regarded as a leading figure in the effort to maintain the board’s independence and presence in society.
As a former leading human rights lawyer, Hahn withstood immense external pressure and coercion drawing on his firm determination and conviction.
He composed an independent audit team specializing in the investigation of alleged corruption involving large-scale policy projects. Not a few supervisors chorused their opinion that, “We really enjoyed working at that time, unlike these days.”
Since the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration, the board has been in chaos. In particular, after the chief was toppled during his term of office fixed by the Constitution, the board seems to be busy trying to keep its head down and see how the wind blows.
As the nation’s greatest watchdog, it stirred up untold misery for itself. It continued to enforce a series of unnecessary inspections at a critical point in its juncture, consequently arousing people’s suspicion. The biggest reason behind the miserable situation facing the board is that it harmed its constitutionally guaranteed independence and disappointed people.
The board poured out special audits that seemed to offend the past government on purpose, taking place simultaneously with the inauguration of the Lee administration. The special audit on South-North economic cooperation is a prime example.
A special audit on some publicly-held companies conducted as part of its initiative to “overhaul the political landscape” got a pelting rain of kicks and blows from journalists and politicians, due to allegations that it was a targeted audit. In one way or another, the board invites fierce public criticism, as it put special stress on keeping politicians happy rather than attending to business. A high-ranking supervisor confided his troubles saying, “I could not sleep well due to a sense of shame after seeing protesters calling us ‘a kind of politician’ at a candlelight rally.”
Experts continue to insist that the Board of Audit and Inspection should be guaranteed independence so that it can function at its best. It fails to give satisfactory results if it continues to be under the direct control of the president, no matter how firmly the Constitution declares the board’s independence. The board’s chief is required to report to the president on occasion and dispatch a supervisor to the Blue House to conduct in-depth discussions. We fear that this will jeopardize the organization’s tradition of neutrality.
In this regard, some people suggest that the board be re-launched as an independent agency free from any affiliation, like comparable bodies in France and China. China made it paddle its own canoe, to ensure that it established itself as the fifth estate of government along with the press, legislative, judiciary and administrative branches.
The expansion of rights to audit and enforce is an issue that needs to be dealt with for the board to regain its prestige. The Board of Audit and Inspection is not an agency that exercises public power, unlike the prosecution. Its main function is confined to evaluating companies and recommending measures. Supervised organizations are not authorized to conduct disciplinary punishment. Therefore, there are many cases in which the audited organizations do not comply with the audit results. Since 2003, the rate of disobedience has exceeded more than 23 percent. Audited organizations offer various excuses for non-compliance.
The board wants to set a policy of imposing a heavy punishment on organizations that do not obey its correction requests. And there are many who say that the board should be offered the right to enforce if it wants to yield tangible results, like the audit board in France.
A lack of expertise is one of the major reasons lowering the board’s efficiency. Even though the auditors want to deny it, many people think the board lacks legal authority. There have been several cases in which the board found wrongdoing but the prosecution failed to obtain a conviction. Some audited organizations do not cooperate with the board because they think the audit results will be reversed in court.
A few days ago, Kim Hwang-sik was inaugurated as the new secretary general og the Board of Audit and Inspection, after many complications such as the resignation of the former chief and a stormy personnel hearing.
People voiced their concerns, rather than their expectations. Kim must discharge his obligation to maintain the board’s constitutionally guaranteed rights and strengthen the board’s ability to satisfy people’s expectations.
We expect that he will be faithful to his duty, and thus he will be remembered as an honorable figure for his contribution to making the board a good workplace.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lim Bong-soo