In April 2017, former Prosecutor General Ahn Tae-geun and former Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office Chief Lee Young-ryul gave six members of the special investigation team and two of the prosecution's supervisors envelopes containing money which is special activity expenses of them. Accordingly, the public’s criticism of these expenses has intensified. Conscious of public opinion, some lawmakers have called not only for these special activity expenses to be returned, but also for the abolishment of giving special activity expenses to the National Assembly. While the National Assembly had originally seemed to accept these demands, public opposition grew once again after it was revealed that the National Assembly only reformed the special activity expense system (by adding receipts and reporting usage records) instead of actually abolishing it. Uncertain of what to make of this public issue, CAH decided to find out what 'special activity expenses' are and why they are a problem.
All About the Special Activity Expenses
What Is a Special Activity Expense?
The special activity expenses in the past were based on an 'expediency fund' arranged in the name of a need for civil servants to maintain their dignity and perform their duties. However, with the public's demand for greater transparency about funds given to public officials, which come from taxes, the expediency fund was divided into business operating expenses and special activities expenses in 1994. Under this plan, business operating expense refer to the costs of carrying out government services, such as expenses for food and beverages, business consultations with related agencies, and staff meetings. The special activity expense, on the other hand, are for 'a cost that is directly spent on carrying out certain tasks such as investigation, intelligence gathering, and investigation activities'. Given the scope of each budget, it is difficult to distinguish between these costs. However, the special activity expense differs from the other in that it can be used without evidence.
The National Institution Receiving Special Activity Expenses
Currently, only 19 out of a number of national institutions receive funds to cover special activity expenses. In other words, the national institutions that can receive special activity expenses are limited. The definition of special activity expenses indicates whether those are the necessary costs for investigation and information gathering activities. Therefore, in order to coincide with this objective, the special activity expenses should be set by the intelligence agency or investigative agency. According to data from Lee Jae-jeong of the Democratic Party, the total special activity expenses for the past 10 years (from 2008 to 2017) were 8.4 trillion won. About 4.7 trillion won, which is more than half of that, was paid to the National Intelligence Service, followed by the Defense Ministry, the National Police Agency, the Justice Ministry and the Blue House. These institutions are somewhat understandable about the special activity expense plan, but the National Assembly, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Supreme Court have been receiving hundreds of millions of won every year despite not being investigative or intelligence institutions. However, it does not accord with the original purpose of the expenses that the Cultural Heritage Administration or the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, which serves as a compliance agency with the judicial police, cannot receive special activity expenses.
Why Is the Special Activity Expense a Problem?
The Perception of Public Officials
As mentioned above, special activity expenses were derived from a split with the previously existing the 'expediency fund'. The 'expediency fund' has been defined as total costs for civil officials to perform their duties, and have been considered to be free for personal use. Since the fund was the forerunner of the special activity expenses, public officials regard the special activity expenses as the expediency fund and use them for personal benefit, even though they do not fall within the scope of special activity expenses. In addition, although business operating expenses and special activity expenses differ according to various criteria in principle, they have been used by public officials without distinction. This is why the two costs have failed to function properly and have degenerated into slush funds for high ranking public officials.
The Obscurity of Usage Details
The special activity expenses are paid to the institution, not to individuals. For example, if special activity expenses are paid to the prosecutor general, the prosecutor general will divide them by the size of each prosecutor's office, and the chief of the Supreme Public Prosecutors' Office or the head of the local prosecutor's office will distribute them. Therefore, prosecutors do not know how much other local prosecutors will receive, and the amount of the expenses will vary depending on who the boss is. In the same way, the National Assembly should entrust each party leader with the distribution of special activity expenses based on the Secretary-General of the National Assembly. Without such a clear management system, the distribution of special activity expenses to individuals is passed on anonymously. Also, since special activity costs are paid in cash, there are no records, and even if the expenses are recorded, it is unknown who made the expense or when it was made. In particular, the remaining amount, excluding the amount paid to each prosecutor's office on a regular basis, will be the special activity expenses that a prosecutor general can spend. However, the details of this amount are problematic because only the prosecutor general can access it. In addition, the prosecutor general is not sure where the senior prosecutors will spend their special activity expenses. It does not require reports on use, nor is it obligatory for senior prosecutors to respond. As there are no verification procedures or reports on special activity expenses, they are have become more and more corrupt.
The Problems with the Effectiveness of the Money
It can be questioned whether the current special activity expenses are being used effectively. Investigators who really need the money for special activities cannot receive the money. As explained above, the special activity expense begins with the director of the institution and goes down to the investigation team at the bottom. Therefore, if other government employees greedily take more money in the middle course, the costs given to investigators will naturally be reduced. However, since lower positions are likely to have to do more work on-site, the higher special activity expenses should be given to the bottom investigators. But even if it is difficult to trace the funds right away, the presence of special activity expenses does not really help the institution to do its job.
How Can We Make the Special Activity Expenses Transparent?
Reporting of Usage and Regular Inspection
As for the current special activity expense system, there is no way of reporting and tracking them. It is difficult to know whether government officials have used the special activity expenses for their jobs or for other purposes. Therefore, it is necessary to report receipts and their uses. Moreover, the Board of Audit and Inspection should periodically audit this and allow the Board of Audit and Inspection to monitor the receipts to prevent corruption. If this monitoring system for special activity expenses is organized, the special activity expenses for high-ranking government officials, including prosecutors, will naturally be quantified
Searching a New Way of Payment
The special activity expense transfer method from top to bottom does not provide any expectation that the special activity expense will be allocated to officials who really need it. Therefore, it is necessary to pay for each civil servant's position, not for the current method of payment. In addition, the allocation of special activity expenses for each position should be determined according to the intensity of the task, not by the rank. For this approach to be established, the first step must be to give up vested rights of high-ranking government officials, who have been receiving a lot of special activity expenses. If this method of delivery is established, the lower part of the organization will receive relatively more special activity expenses than the upper part, which can be managed by the upper part, thereby increasing transparency. In addition, the transfer of a fixed amount of special activity expenses can reduce the fear of loss of the expenses by the upper part.
Partial Reduction and Abolition of Special Activity Expenses
As shown in the definition of special activity expenses, they should be allocated only to investigative and intelligence agencies that need 'costs directly to carrying out certain tasks such as investigation, gathering information, and investigation activities'. However, the National Assembly, the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) are currently receiving special expenses despite not being investigative or intelligence agencies. In the case of the National Assembly, it is the most likely institution to abolish special activity expenses since it is a place that is heavily influenced by the public opinion. If the National Assembly abolishes the National Assembly's special activity expenses as it is, it can expect many effects. The National Assembly is a legislative body and, of course, can amend, create or repeal relevant laws. So far, the National Assembly has not delved into the issue because it has received special expenses, but it will naturally check prosecutors and Supreme Court if the National Assembly is free from the special activity expenses issue. That would lead to a thorough investigation of government employees' special activity expenses, which could soon lead to special activity expense reform.
Civil servants are organizations that are paid through taxes, so people have a right to know about their payment or special expenses. However, the current special activity expense system completely ignores the people's right to know. Thus, improving the special activity expense system is essential. Organizations that maintain this system should have other institutions that can report where and how the expense funds are used, as well as having the ability to check them. And then they have to provide special activity expenses to individuals in the public service, rather than the agency, to facilitate the tracking of expenses and to prevent high-ranking officials from handling them. The government should make the system intuitive and transparent so that the public can monitor it. Only then will the government be able to correct the public's image of officials who have been disgraced by the special activity expense. < 저작권자 © 중앙헤럴드 무단전재 및 재배포금지 >