Koreans poorly rate their government’s actions to fight public sector corruption


Koreans poorly rate their government’s actions to fight public sector corruption

Analysis by Sanghak Lee (Board Member, Transparency International-Korea)

Transparency International (TI) publishes the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) every year: It is the biggest ever survey tracking world-wide public opinion on corruption. Since its debut in 2003, the GCB has investigated the experiences of tens of thousands of everyday people all over the world. This year’s survey has been conducted in 118 countries. The GCB includes questions to ordinary citizens such as: Have you paid a bribe? Has corruption increased in your country? Is your government effectively tackling corruption? 

When South Koreans were asked if they thought the level of corruption in their country had changed over the last 12 months (whether it had increased, decreased, or stayed the same), 50% of respondents replied with ‘it had become worse’, 17% with ‘better’ and 29% with ‘no change’. Compared with other OECD countries or G20 members, Korea received the highest score in the category ‘worse’. Other OECD countries showed this answer as follows: 28% in Japan, 34% in Australia, 37% in the US, 44% in France and 48% in the United Kingdom. Actually, Korea sits in 36th out of 85 countries regarding this answer.

[Table 1] Change in the level of corruption over the past year (%).









The results are compared to countries that are both OECD and G20 members.

Low scores for governments’ corrupt management

The next question is asking: ‘How is the government handling the fight against corruption?’ Korea also received a very bad score regarding this question. 76% of respondents said that the government is doing a bad job and only 14% said that they are doing well. On other hand, 24% in Germany, 41% in Australia, 43% in Turkey, 51% in the US, 57% in the UK and 70% in Italy said that their governments are doing a bad job. However, the Korean scores are the most negative among those countries. And the answer that the government is doing well is the lowest among the above-mentioned countries. Korea has ranked 16th out of 116 countries regarding the answer ‘badly doing’ according to Transparency International.

[Table 2] Evaluation of governments handling corruption (%).

Shameful corruption scores in major parts of society

Korea has received very bad scores, according to the survey, for the level of corruption listed by institutions in each country. The questions have been as follows: ‘How many of the following people are involved in corruption?’ The percentage of respondents who answered ‘all of them’ and “most of them’ has been added together. In addition, the survey ranked 117, or sometimes 118, countries which are eligible for this survey.

The percentage of people who think that the President and the Blue House officials are ‘most/all involved in corruption’ is 46%. In terms of the national ranking, Korea ranks 22nd out of all 117 countries. The percentage of respondents who think members of the National Assembly are ‘most/all involved in corruption’ is 79%, which is the second highest level of corruption among 118 countries. According to the survey, people believe that 69% of government officials are ‘most/all involved in corruption’, which is the fifth highest score among 118 countries. Regarding local council members, respondents believe that 67% are involved in corruption, and local government councilors are dishonorably ranked 1st out of 117 countries.

Police scores 41% and ranks 47th out of 118 nations. Tax-related officials score 47%, and they rank 31st out of 118 countries. Judges score 41% and rank 32nd out of 117 countries. Religious leaders show the lowest percentage of ‘most/all involved in corruption’. However, religious leaders have been ranked 8th out of 117 countries. The percentage of respondents who think corporate executives are ‘most/all involved in corruption’ accounted for 60%, which ranks 6th out of 118 countries.

When compared with global averages, the Korean score of each sector is lower than the global average. Especially the members of the National Assembly, the local council members, government officials, religious leaders and corporate executives are significantly lower than the global average.          

[Table 3] Degree of Corruption in Social Sectors









(Note) Question is ‘How many of the following people do you think are involved in corruption?’ and the options of answer are ‘none’, ‘some of them’, ‘most of them’ and ‘all of them’.

Role of ordinary citizens in fighting corruption

Another part of the GCB-questions deals with the anti-corruption activity that ordinary citizens can apply to. The questions are as follows: ‘Can ordinary people make a difference in fighting against corruption?’, ‘Is it socially acceptable to report corruption?’, ‘Would you feel personally obliged to report corruption?’ and ‘I would spend a whole day in court to give evidence’

The evaluation of corruption in each sector of Korean society is very negative compared with other countries. However, the activities of citizens to expel corruption are relatively good compared to other Korean scores. About 66% of the respondents say that there are some roles that ordinary citizens could play regarding anti-corruption activities. This ranks 35th place out of 116 countries. 70% of respondents believe that it is socially acceptable to report corruption, which ranks 14th out of 81 countries. 71 percent of respondents feel that reporting corruption is their personal obligation, which ranks 26th out of 81 countries. And 56% of respondents say that they would spend a whole day to submit evidence to the court, which ranks 30th out of 81 countries.

[Table 4] Citizens’ activities for anti-corruption




According to the Global Corruption Barometer surveyed and published by Transparency International, corruption levels are getting worse in Korea, and citizens’ perception of corruption in socially relevant and important areas is extremely bad. This survey tells us that citizens’ opinions about the level of corruption in Korean society are very negative. Moreover, considering that the survey was conducted from September 12th until November 3rd 2016, and that the Presidential scandal 2017 has not been properly reflected yet, we might understand that Korean people have the perception that the corruption of Korean society is very structuralized. However, citizens are demonstrating the engagement of the global upper/middle class in an effort to expel corruption and create a clean society.

Since this survey was conducted for the general public, the GCB is very useful in terms of understanding citizens’ views about the level of corruption and the degree of corruption in major groups of society. And since the same survey has been conducted all around the world, it is a strong and meaningful data to compare country by country. Of course, it is important to consider that the levels, concept and expectation of corruption in each country are different, but still, the country-specific comparisons might reveal an important and useful information.


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