Cheerleaders for the governmentAbout 1.9 billion won ($1.6 million) from the central and local government budgets went to the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Military Sexual Slavery by Japan and the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan which it had merged with over the last five years. Democratic Party lawmaker Yoon Mee-hyang had been responsible for both.
According to disclosed information, the whereabouts of millions of the tax funds are unaccountable. Seoul doled out more than 100 million won ($83,270) to the Korean Council to install a monument in remembrance for the victims in a memorial park in Mt. Namsan in central Seoul. The monument left out some names known to have clashed with the leadership of the organization. If one of the survivors, Lee Yong-soo, had not spilled the beans, much of the suspicious activities and spending plans of the civic group would have stayed secret.
Few knew the council has been receiving so much from the government. Most civilians believed the group ran largely on donations, given the active fund-raising activities. Many thought the civic group chose to raise funds on its own as it had mostly been in conflict with the government settlements and arrangements over the wartime sexual slavery issues. But surprisingly, the group has been receiving handsome paychecks from the central and local governments. Authorities must have neglected oversight on spending to avoid criticism that they had poorly treated a civic group acting on behalf of the victims.
According to government files, over 3,700 NGOs received government funding last year. They were mostly subsidized or won procurements in government projects. Some large NGOs like the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) have been running on donations after declaring they wouldn’t receive any government money. Some of the groups designed to keep oversight on capital and power abuses regularly receive checks from companies. Many also are engaged in projects that raise questions about non-profit design.
Activists have been using the NGO platform as a short-cut to enter public office. The phenomenon has become decisive after the liberal government under President Moon Jae-in was launched. Figures from the PSPD and a group of lawyers defending civilian rights have joined the Blue House, government and ruling party.
President Moon Jae-in said the controversy of the council brought about the momentum to examine the approaches and behaviors of NGO activities. The government must also re-assess identity and employment of NGOs. If it tempts NGOs with money and public office titles, the healthy civilian oversight could be undermined. If civilian bodies turn into cheer-leaders for the governing power, the reliable alarm bell on power corruption could stop working.