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(EDITORIAL from the Korea Herald on Aug. 6)
Transparent accounting
NGOs must come clean on use of donations

Nongovernmental organizations are required to apply stricter rules to their financial management than other entities. If they are to keep public trust and be in a position to oversee government agencies and business corporations, they should be transparent on using money donated by people or channeled from the state coffers.

   Regretful to say, many NGOs in Korea have not been so, inviting calls for tighter measures to enhance the transparency of their accounting. In recent years, a string of misappropriation cases involving major civic groups have been brought to light. In one deplorable instance, a charity official was accused of spending part of the fund raised to help children of families without parents.

   In an increasingly diversified society, it is inevitable for civic groups to assume a greater role, as there is a limit to what the government can do. In principle, NGO movements should be funded by money collected from members or donated by ordinary citizens.

   But most of the country's NGOs have relied on government support to some extent in the form of subsidy and tax deduction as voluntary funding remains insufficient. The dubious accounting system is considered to have kept many potential individual donors from making contributions to NGO activities.

   In these circumstances, civic groups are obligated to disclose details of their expenditure in clear ways to leave no doubt about whether government subsidies have been used for proper purposes and encourage more people to donate. They are all the more responsible for transparent accounting, as they are pitching themselves as advocates for the further advancement of Korean society beyond industrialization and democratization. Corruption and mistrust are cited as major stumbling blocks to reaching that goal. Keeping accounting books clear and transparent may be one of the simple but most effective and fundamental measures to eradicate the deep-rooted problems.

   It does not make sense for NGOs, which have applied strict legal standards to political and business circles, to have neglected to keep thorough accounting records on the use of donations, insisting a related law is out of date.

   The government is right to be moving to tighten oversight over financial management of NGOs that have received state subsidies as well as donations from individuals and corporations. It would be only natural to slash government support for those groups found to have been negligent or dubious in their accounting.

   In the process, caution needs to be taken to avoid causing unnecessary controversies over political motivation. There is the possibility of some progressive civic groups claiming they have been pinpointed by the conservative ruling bloc. The increased scrutiny should be done in a fair and objective fashion to prevent essential steps toward financial transparency from being entangled in arguments over political bias.

   Only after transparent accounting is firmly established will there be a justification for the government's separate plans for promoting the culture of giving, which includes easing the process of raising funds.