The fight against corruption must start with decisive punishment and the President’s strong commitment

“The fight against corruption must start with decisive punishment and the President’s strong commitment”

Results of TI-Korea’s anti-corruption and integrity survey. 

Analysis by Lee Sanghak, Board Member of TI-Korea


The anti-corruption policies of the new government are highly relevant since the Choi Soonsil scandal. Grand corruption is one of the most crucial issues in Korean society. TI-Korea’s survey about the new government’s anti-corruption policy targeted domestic and foreign experts in charge of anti-corruption related matters in public as well as in the private sector.

The survey was conducted by TI-Korea from May 4 until May 17, 2017, using an Internet survey system. The total of 311 survey respondents is composed of company staff, civil servants, staffs of public enterprises, NGO members, and experts who are engaged in integrity jobs. Among the respondents, 12.5% are responsible for business affairs related to corporate integrity, 44.4% are in charge of public service and public institution integrity affairs, 16.4% are members of anti-corruption related civil society organizations and 12.5% are other professional groups.

Survey findings

To expel corruption, the strong will and commitment of core powers including the President as well as heavy punishment are of top priority. In the business sector, the punitive damages system is pointed out as most important among other institutional apparatuses. The fact that the Moon Jaein government has already made clear its “strong commitment to the liquidation of the deep-rooted evil” is viewed as a very positive signal towards a clean society. To expel corruption, it would be appropriate to start with the heavy punishment of corruption-related persons along with the government’s anti-corruption will.

In the opinion of respondents of this survey, the lack of resolute punishment for corruption was the biggest obstacle (21.8%) that prevented the Korean society from moving towards a clean community. As soft punishment is common, and, in particular, as a corruption of the power stratum has not been punished appropriately, it has been a serious problem for a long time, and the perception of social justice has been shaken throughout society.

The Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) conducted by Transparency International shows that corruption amongst ordinary people in Korea is very low, compared to other Asian countries. However, Korea’s problems were and still are grand corruption that happens amongst the elite.

Other reasons that block society from achieving greater integrity are the ‘lack of responsibilities and ethics of public officials’ (17.1%) as well as an ‘unfair social system’ (16.3%).

Figure 1: Obstacles of integrity in the society


According to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), South Korea placed 53rd amongst 176 countries. The citizens’ mistrust in the government’s’ anti-corruption policy is higher in Korea than in other nations. The TI-Korea survey participants said that it would be necessary to have a determined anti-corruption will, in particular, the President (40.5%).

As apparently confirmed by the Choi Soonsil scandal, the attitude of the core power group is more important than anything else. If the President and his/her relatives were consistently implicated in irregularities, it could not have the persuasive power so that ordinary people remain integer and free from corruption. Transparency International points out that the “tone from the top” is critical to expel corruption (GCB).

To expel corruption and to create a clean society, 16.3% of the respondents said that reporting corruption has to be promoted and protection of whistle-blowers has to be guaranteed. 15.5% said the realignment of anti-corruption organizations is most relevant to achieve this goal.

Figure 2: Anti-corruption policy of the new government

In the same context, it was pointed out that the reasons for the negative evaluation of the Park Geunhye government are ‘the problems within the core of the regime including the President’ (45.0%) as well as ‘the problems within the ruling party’ (32.7%). Overall, the problems at the center of the regime are the most crucial reasons for not trusting government policies.

Figure 3: Why is the evaluation of anti-corruption policy negative?

As the new government commences its work, there is growing interest in institutional devices for preventing corruption. The establishment of a ‘high-ranking civil servant corruption agency,’ the ‘separation of corruption body from ACRC,’ and the ‘restoration of the organization of public-private governance for anti-corruption’ are examples that are currently discussed.

The idea of forming such institutional devices for anti-corruption activities was generally viewed positively by respondents of TI-Korea’s survey. The restoration of an anti-corruption civil-private cooperate organization received an approval rating of 73.3 points, and the separation of the anti-corruption body got 70.8 points. Implementing a high-ranking civil servant corruption agency, however, is most favorably viewed and received 84.3 points of approval.

Figure 4: Institutional devices that the new government needs to adopt (points)

Footnote: ‘very opposed’ 0 point, ‘opposed’ 25 points, ‘neutral’ 60 points, ‘favorable’ 75 points, ‘very favorable’ 100 points

Besides the public sector, there is also the private sector that needs to gather capacity to expel corruption and create a clean society. A ‘punitive damages system’ is viewed as the policy to most likely eliminate corporate corruption among the people surveyed (27.3%). In the case of Oxy humidifier disinfectant, unethical behavior of a company caused enormous damages resulting in severe health problems and even death. However, it is currently not easy to hold companies responsible for damages they caused and pay appropriate compensation. In this regard, there is a strong demand for institutional devices that place heavy responsibility for corporate faults. In the case of the US Foreign Corruption Practices Act, we can see that heavy penalties are the most efficient way to prevent fraudulent conduct. Lax punishments for large enterprises involved in corruption and bribery that repeatedly occurred in the past have to be corrected.

In addition, measures to enhance the integrity of the business sector – based on the opinion of survey participants – should include ‘strengthening the independence and function of corporate audits’ (22.8%), ‘strengthening the independence of outside directors’ (15.3%), and ‘expanding corporate disclosure obligations and strengthening sanctions for violation’ (15.3%).

Figure 5: Policies necessary to improve corporate integrity

When asked to rate the anti-corruption policies of previous governments, the Roh Moo-hyun government (66.8 points) and the Kim Daejung government (59.0 points) received the most favorable assessment among the participants of TI-Korea’s survey. On the other hand, the Park Geun Hye administration received the lowest score (10.5 points), and the Lee Myung-bak government received 17.8 points. Actually, the CPI scores improved during Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun governments which are relevant between 1998 and 2007. However, from 2008 until 2016, which corresponded with the Park and Lee regime, the CPI index showed stagnation or drop.

Figure 6: Evaluation of anti-corruption policies of each government (points)

Footnote: ‘very wrong” 0 point, ‘somewhat wrong’ 25 points, ‘mediocre’ 50 points, ‘somewhat good’ 75 points, ‘very good’ 100 points

When asked about the most efficient anti-corruption system introduced in the past 20 years, the ‘Kim Young-ran Law‘ received the highest score (37.0%). While many attempts have been made to withdraw the Kim Young-ran law, experts who are involved in anti-corruption treatments regard it as the best anti-corruption system in Korea.

Figure 7: Most important and effect policy


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