Ditching foes, buying friends
The Ministry of Public Administration and Security shocked activists last week when it announced a list of 162 projects and campaigns led by civic groups deemed eligible for government funding.
Eyebrows were raised in some quarters because the government has excluded civil rights groups that have taken part, over the last three years, in street protests and rallies that turned violent.
Equally noticeable was the money that conservative organizations like the Korea Freedom League received, amounts that far exceed the average of 30 million won ($24,330), which critics say is unabashed favoritism.
We completely support the government’s decision to end financial support for groups that frequently engage in illegal protests. The government said two years ago it would cut off activist groups engaged in militant rallies but until now it has failed to carry out its warning.
Organizations behind last year’s candlelight vigils - protests against the resumption of U.S. beef imports that developed into an outright anti-government campaign - were beneficiaries of government funding.
In other words, these groups used taxpayer money to fund their battles with riot police on the streets of the capital.
These groups have received a total of 62.1 billion won from the government over the last 10 years, but they have not once produced receipts or other documents nor did they return unspent funds.
The government must take responsibility for supervising how taxpayers’ funds are channeled into nonprofit organizations as well as their use afterwards.
Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission has fallen out of step with the Ministry of Public Administration. It has recommended continuing to give funding support to civic groups that have been involved in riots. We believe that such a lack of policy consistency impairs governmental authority.
At the same time, the government should also move beyond ideology and partiality in addressing nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations.
The top five campaigns led by civic groups to be funded were pitched to support a green economy, social unity, create jobs and save the four major rivers. All are more or less rallying cries for current and planned government policies.
Civic groups must act independently, unaffected by government influence. We worry that the incumbent administration will make the same mistake as the previous one by favoring civic groups that are in concert with its policies and ideology.
The government should not be tempted to buy loyalty from civic organizations.