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Prospect and Retrospect of the National-Merit Person Policy in South Korea - Focused on Its Target Population and Benefits

Jin-Young Oh 1

1국가보훈처

Candidate

ABSTRACT

This article’s objective is to review the South Korea’s "National-Merit Person(NMP)" policy, which has been implemented for the purpose of inspiring patriotism and achieving national integration since the Armistice of the Korean War, and to suggest alternative policies for its reform. The results of the study indicate that the NMP policy of South Korea has not properly adapted itself to changing national and international environments and has not reflected people’s consciousness in a timely manner. This is due to the excessive political intervention in the process of determining the scope of policy target(entitlement) and compensation standards(benefits). In terms of the former, there are three major problems. First, South Korea has failed to build a social consensus on who is entitled to receive honorable treatments as a NMP. As a result, some people insist unreasonably that they deserve honorable treatments and benefits. Second, laws and regulations regarding NMP policies are not well coordinated and often incompatible since there has been a vicious circle of improvised enactment and revision of laws resulted from political influence seeking party interests. Third, administrative jargons used in the NMP policy have placed their focus excessively on values, thereby provoking social conflicts rather than generating national integration, and creating unnecessary tension between the government and the people. With regard to the latter, there are also three major critical issues. First, incessant complaints about compensation level and disputes over its fairness have been prevalent among NMPs because of ambiguous definitions of the character of compensation, entitlement and compensation rates. Second, allowances have been introduced to complement the compensation program but failed to fulfill their initial goal of guaranteeing the quality of life to a certain degree for NMPs taking their individual socio-economic conditions into account. Third, social affirmative actions that provide various assistances and benefits to NMPs in terms of education, employment, healthcare and public transportation have turned out to be the cause of ethical problems- i.e. too generous benefits and free riders. In conclusion, the current NMP policy of South Korea must be reformed as follows; First, the scope of NMP entitlement should be reorganized reflecting national sentiments so as to clearly specify who is entitled to the honorable treatments. Second, the administrative jargons should be replaced with more descriptive and functional ones to keep NMPs from demanding privileges excessively. Third, public skepticism toward the NMP policy should be changed. The policy has caused confusion among people because of a lack of clear definition distinguishing the object of respect and honor from the recipient of compensation. Fourth, compensation rates for NMPs have to be rescheduled properly so as to end the disputes over unfairness regarding how much money the State should give to a NMP to repay his/her sacrifice in a token of everlasting gratitude to them. Fifth and lastly, affirmative actions should reflect national sentiments and be revised to get rid of problems such as moral hazards of free riders resulted from excessively generous benefits.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.