NGOs must stay in their laneThe Moon Jae-in administration relied heavily on progressive NGO People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), given his appointments of figures in key senior posts after Moon took office. Moon confessed to have gone all-out to bring Jang Ha-sung onboard as his first policy chief. His successors — Kim Soo-hyun and Kim Sang-jo — also bore PSPD titles. Jang and Kim Sang-jo were champions of chaebol reform and Kim designed the real estate policy for Moon.
Kim Sang-jo was instantly sacked after he was found to have raised the rent for his apartment in the posh neighborhood of Gangnam by 14 percent just days before the rent control law went into effect. Even as his case would differ from the Korea Land & Housing Corp. scandal where employees attempted profiteering from inside information, he still followed the disgraced exit of his predecessors.
Jang angered the people with his casual comment that not everyone has to live in Gangnam, although he himself lived there. Kim was dismissed for an economic slump and failures in real estate policy.
Former Justice Minister Cho Kuk also was picked as Moon’s first and longest senior secretary for civil affairs from the PSPD. His design of dividing investigative power between the prosecution and the police turned out to be ineffective in investigating high-profile case.
An NGO’s role lies in independent criticism on state affairs and resistance to power. It therefore must fend off political temptations. But in Korea, NGOs have often been involved in politics. NGOs stepped into the central stage upon a call from Moon. Civilian activists came to dominate the Blue House, government and ruling party. NGOs who had produced political heavyweights kept silent on government follies. Most of them are making disgraceful exits toward the end of the term. Their theory-based policies from income-led growth to real estate and prosecutorial reform all caused serious side effects. They proved to have lacked in policymaking experience and ethical standards.
NGO participatory experiments in state governance must stop at this stage. NGOs must return to their original role of oversight and check. One member of PSPD wrote on an internal bulletin, “It has become unbearable to see news about corruption of politicians and government officials with PSPD background.” The member called for PSPD members on the steering committee to be filled with figures who vow not to join politics or government after leaving the PSPD.