Civic groups stray off course

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Civic groups stray off course

Nongovernmental organizations and civic groups wield so much power in our society that they have been called “the fifth branch” of government. When the government or private companies launch a new program or project, they have to consider how civic groups will react. Civic groups need to respect the morality and integrity with which they have been entrusted. In many cases, however, they have overstepped their bounds and denigrated their missions.

A committee consisting of several civic groups in Incheon was found to have allegedly pressured private companies to pay a portion of the expenses for their 40 million won ($32,715) July 1 event celebrating Democratic Party lawmaker Song Young-gil’s election as the city’s new mayor. Fortunately, their plan was uncovered by the media and the committee failed to achieve its goal. This disappointing episode is reminiscent of a similar one several years ago, in which the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy collected money from businesses to pay for their new building, arousing harsh criticism from the public. It is deplorable that such practices are still being repeated by NGOs today.

The host of the event in question responded to the allegations by saying, “We think it’s not a big problem for civic groups to ask private companies or public organizations for financial support when they’re running short of funds.” This makes it sound as if they have sought sponsors and begged for financial aid in the past. In that case, it would be difficult for businesses that understand the influence NGOs wield in this society to reject their “requests.” For example, if a private company were stigmatized by an NGO as one that destroys the environment, it would be hard for them to continue their work. For that reason, the government needs to determine whether there are any businesses that still suffer from this kind of exploitation by NGOs.

Also worrisome is the phenomenon in which civic advocacy groups insert themselves into politics. The celebration was reportedly held to convey to the new mayor a message of hope from the civic groups that supported a unified opposition’s mayoral candidate in the June 2 local elections. If a civic group relinquishes its job of serving as a watchdog, it devolves into a dirty association that is only working for its own benefit. We should worry about the fact that many committees are being set up in local governments, with the active participation of civic groups. Civic groups cannot be reprimanded for aiming to reflect the diverse views present in our society, but this incursion of civic groups into government is cause for concern about their possible - and inevitable - degradation. Money and power should be a civic group’s worst enemy.
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