“Greater power must be subject to public scrutiny”
An interview with Prof. Yun Tae-Beom, newly appointed member of the Presidential Advisory Committee, on the future of fighting corruption under the new South Korean government.
Interview conducted by Lee Sang-hak, Board Member of TI-Korea
TI-Korea: Prof. Yun, is the integrity in our society improving overall?
Yun Tae-Beom: Several studies show that corruption in our society has been reduced a lot. However, this is not the case with the evaluation from international organizations. I think corruption in everyday life has decreased considerably.
However, I still think that the part that is not visible to us, the part related to power, has to improve more. Power is not well exposed, it is not controlled, and in some cases it avoids regulation. In my opinion, this is our biggest assignment. If great power is not controlled, its negative effects spread widely. If great power is adequately controlled, the degree of integrity could be improved immensely in the near future.
TI-Korea: Corruption can originate from many aspects such as institutions, policies, practices, culture, and consciousness. What is the most important cause of corruption in our society?
Yun Tae-Beom: Corruption is a part of culture, so it cannot be easily reduced or erased. It will take a considerable amount of time. In addition, culture is influenced by and mixed with several other factors such as history, institutions, and politics. Therefore, it is not easy to determine the key cause. Multifaceted causes are in place, and they create a negative synergy. Some people blame the system, some blame the culture, and I personally think they are all right. This is because all of these things are working together. Naturally, this means that neither the awareness nor the perception of the problem nor the response to it is simple. Comprehensive and systematic analysis and response are inevitable.
TI-Korea: What was the main issue that led to the Park Geunhye and Choi Soonsil scandal?
Yun Tae-Beom: The main problem is the lack of transparency of power. People say “absolute power leads to being corrupt,” but to be more specific, it is the power which is not transparent that will enable corruption. The key issue of this scandal is concealment, which has resulted in unfair and illegal actions. The core value of the public realm should be openness and transparency, but what we experienced during the scandal was the opposite. In particular, the scandal is the result of a combination of obscuring, unfairness, and illegality at the core of the power. The government’s controlling instruments did not work efficiently on this issue, too. I think these failures sparked the candlelight revolution. The government did not think about the public at all. The events would not have occurred as they did if the government had better considered the people’s perspective.
TI-Korea: The task of the new government to create a clean society is quite complex. What are the biggest challenges for the new administration?
Yun Tae-Beom: I think it is the normalization of power. The general public believes that the President and the prosecution hold the biggest power within society. However, the new government emphasizes what is called the “President at Gwanghwamun”: A President who is much more visible to the public and who wishes to be closer to the people. First efforts – such as moving the President’s office from the almost isolated Blue House to Gwanghwamun Square – are not only symbolic acts but reflect the attitude of this new administration. Additionally, the new government wants to bring a prosecution reform under way to expose uncontrolled power to the public and become the subject of public control. I think these actions are the most important tasks for the new government.
The reform of powerful institutions such as the prosecution is crucial, but I believe it would be more important to amend the information disclosure law: It needs to be amended drastically so that the government has to give further details to the citizens. In addition to that, there are many other ways to prevent corruption. If diverse laws and systems that are currently being suggested and discussed – such as a high-ranking public servant corruption agency, a national integrity committee, a “real name policy” in order to clarify authorship or ownership, a Citizen Participation Budget System, and the Choi Soonsil Prevention Act – are properly established and implemented, this government can create a real turning point towards a clean society.
TI-Korea: Many reform issues such as rebuilding the anti-corruption institution, a prosecution reform, and social pacts are being discussed among the public. How should this discussion be reflected on the new government’s agenda?
Yun Tae-Beom: The new government emphasizes that it want to place the ‘people’ at the center of its efforts. The powerful are not “reigning” over the people anymore, but want to exercise their power for the people. Therefore, many reforms will need to be settled in the wake of the public opinion. I think that the expectations of the people have already been expressed on various reform issues, and they should be fully taken into account to launch concrete reform projects. I think the government can be very successful if they acknowledge and understand the expectations of the people.
TI-Korea: The transparency and anti-corruption actions in the private sector are becoming increasingly important as well. What policies should apply to the private sector?
Yun Tae-Beom: It will not be easy to reinforce transparency in the private sector. Therefore, I think that if the public sector such as the government plays a leading role to secure transparency, it will give a positive influence on the private sector. Of course, transparency efforts in public and in the private sector should be performed in parallel. For example, there are various discussions in the private sector about principles such as collective growth, social responsibility, social values, and social economy: The main values of such discussions are anti-corruption, transparency, and fairness.
The law about the social value of public institutions that President Moon had initiated already in 2014, and that Democratic Party’s lawmaker Kim Kyongsoo proposed in 2016 can be one example. If these ideas are properly discussed not only in public but also in the private sector, transparency can be enhanced. The role of NGOs will be important, too. I think the ‘Korean Pact on Anti-Corruption and Transparency (KPACT)’ which was formed in 2005 under the Roh Moo-hyun government, is a good example.
TI-Korea: Thank you for this interview, Prof. Yun
Yun Tae-Beom is a Professor of Public Administration at the Korea National Open University and a newly appointed member of the Presidential Advisory Committee. During Moon Jae-In’s election campaign, Prof. Yun was a policy advisor to the Presidential Camp and a member of the Democratic Policy Forum.
*This interview was conducted on 17th May 2017.