Law enforcement : Capacity Building :: South Korea
Home About WEPA Activities / Documents Partner Countries Domestic Wastewater Treatment Climate Change and the Water Environment
POLICIES > Law enforcement : Capacity Building: Republic of Korea
Cases Law enforcement Background Legislative framework Organizational arrangement State of water


Law enforcement Capacity Building: Republic of Korea

Capacity Building

Following the 1997 economic crisis, Korea pursued ambitious regulatory reforms to foster sustainable growth. Permitting procedures became much simpler and quicker (less than ten days for air emissions and sewage discharges by new installations, seven days for existing ones). However, environmental permits are issued separately for each environmental medium, and are not always sufficient to control pollution, resulting in many complaints from residents near industrial complexes and large sources. There are no integrated permits1 that would allow a comprehensive coverage of production and process methods through cross-media inspections at the firm level, and thereby efficiency gains in pollution prevention and control.

Over the last 20years, there have been no less than seven general regimes of enforcement, with changes in responsibilities for issuing permits, monitoring and enforcement and administrative measures and sanctions. After 1994, MoE took control over permitting, inspection, enforcement and prosecution of major emitters, through its regional offices. In October 2002, all environmental inspection and enforcement powers were transferred to the provinces. This was part of an overall institutional restructuring and reform process, pursuant to the Act on Promoting the Devolution of Central Government Authority and to the creation of a presidential commission to promote devolution of enforcement powers to local authorities. Provinces share enforcement responsibilities with municipalities. This is also the case for large cities, except Seoul and Daegu where municipalities assume full enforcement responsibilities. Such devolution of enforcement powers is not new in the history of Korean environmental policy. It already took place between July 1992 and May 1994, and also before 1984, when the provinces were entrusted with enforcement responsibilities for sources outside industrial complexes.

These numerous changes in enforcement policy have caused loss of skilled staff within the MoE and other central ministries and agencies. While some MoE inspectors voluntarily transferred to local governments, this occurred on an ad hoc basis. Overall, the number of inspectors decreased from 2111 in 1997 to 1646 in 2004, despite the OECD recommendation to strengthen the capacity of local government to carry out its new environmental functions2. As a result, the number of inspections slightly decreased over the review period while the number of sites to be inspected increased significantly. The work of local government inspectors has remained virtually unchanged since devolution.

While local authorities may have better knowledge of local socio-economic conditions and environmental issues, decentralised enforcement and inspection entails the risk of development interests overriding environmental considerations. The rate of violations per inspection decreased in recent years as well as the rate of violations per inspector. To enhance capacity building, the MoE has established an inspection planning team that provides guidance to local governments. The remaining MoE inspectors also help in investigating environmental crimes3. Continuous monitoring systems were introduced at large industrial facilities and NGOs have been allowed to participate in regular inspections or special inspections following complaints4.

1)i.e. integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) schemes.
2)Including the 46 inspectors in the four river basin environmental offices that monitor and inspect discharges (mainly sewage) in drinking water protection areas.
3)The 1999 amendment to the Environmental Enforcement Act prescribes that non compliance with EIA falls under the criminal code.
4)Three hundred “civic-environment monitoring teams” with about 25000 members volunteer in monitoring activities.