[Transparency] Seoul's Civil Service Reform Plan

Date 2017-06-27 Category Others Updater ssunha
Wonshin Jeon
Audit & Inspection Division
Last Update

Background: Challenges & Objectives

In 2001, the South Korean government introduced nationwide legislation against corruption, which was later amended into the Act on Anti-Corruption and the Establishment and Operation of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission. The Anti-Corruption Act, despite its ambition, had shortcomings. It was still not possible, under this law, to punish civil servants for corruption if there was no proof they had promised any favors in return for gifts. The law also failed to set a specific code of ethics for civil servants.

Mayor Park Won-soon and the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) announced the SMG Civil Service Reform Plan (a.k.a. “the Park Won-soon Law”) in August 2014, and amended the Code of Conduct for SMG employees as well as the SMG Rules on Discipline and Punishment in October of the same year. Whereas legislation requires lengthy debates, an organization’s code of conduct can always be introduced and amended with a leader’s determination and vision.

The Civil Service Reform Plan centers on a zero-tolerance policy against corruption and bribery, irrespective of the value or amounts of gifts involved. It carries punishments from demotion to pay cuts to dismissal from the civil service altogether. The plan made it clear that civil servants who were caught accepting even the smallest of gifts would have no standing in local civil service.

With the Civil Service Reform Plan, the SMG successfully raised anti-corruption awareness across its 40,000 employees and the 25,000 employees of its affiliated organizations and agencies. The plan has also made the SMG an exemplar for other public organizations and local governments to emulate, bolstering the SMG’s pioneering stature in proactively satisfying the public’s expectation of integrity in the civil service.

Actions & Implementation

The Civil Service Reform Plan introduced the following measures to eradicate corruption from local civil services and enhance the public’s trust in government administration.

(1) Conflicts-of-interest review: The SMG now has the authority to review any possible conflicts of interest between civil servants’ duties and not only their assets, but also those of their spouses, family members and relatives. Civil servants who are found to have knowingly had conflicts of interest will be suspended from their duties, transferred to other positions, etc.

(2) Solicitation Self-Reporting System (SSRS): High-ranking civil servants (Grade 4 or higher) are now required to report every quarter any improper solicitations they have received. This means they now have a pretext for turning down improper solicitations and that solicitors run the risk of their actions being placed on record.

(3) One strike and out system: Civil servants are now subject to punishment for any gifts they receive, irrespective of their number or value below KRW 1 million, and if the value of the gifts exceeds KRW 1 million, they will face dismissal.

(4) Restraining retired civil servants’ re-employment: New guidelines and systemic education are in place that specify what retired civil servants ought not to do in seeking private-sector employment. This initiative also involves the disclosure, on the SMG website, of the results of reviews on retired civil servants’ eligibility for seeking employment with various private-sector entities.

(Source: Seoul Metropolitan Government)


The Civil Service Reform Plan Version 2.0, released in October 2016, introduced the following additional measures:

(1) Voluntary Integrity Compliance Program (VICP): This program encourages each department to identify, monitor, and eliminate internal corruption under the stewardship of the department head. The SMG fairly evaluates all departments’ anti-corruption efforts and exemplary ones are rewarded, such as with the postponement of auditing. At the same time, the program strengthens protections for civil servants actively involved in the program.

(2) Enhanced preventive auditing system: This new reform plan expands the scope of routine safety inspections and a-priori auditing consultation to include the public and semi-public organizations in which the SMG invests.

(3) Support for communication and implementation management: This new reform plan strengthens communications between auditors and audited organizations from the beginning to end of auditing to maximize the effectiveness of auditing results.

(Source: Seoul Metropolitan Government)

(4) Enhancing auditors’ capabilities and collaboration system: The SMG also expanded the Public Interest Auditing Group, comprising 15 to 50 external independent experts, such as lawyers and accountants, with the specific role of enhancing the auditing of safety and labor issues.

Results & Evaluation

Over the last two years under the Civil Service Reform Plan’s one-strike and out policy, six civil servants have faced severe punishments. The number of civil servants charged with corruption—including bribery and other violations of the law, such as driving under the influence—was reduced by 38 percent, from 146 to 90, and the number of reports voluntarily filed by civil servants on the gifts they received multiplied by 5.6 times, from 283 to 1577.

Moreover, the Auditing Reform Plan has transformed the auditing culture in local civil service by shifting the emphasis from control and punishment to autonomy, accountability, and co-governance. Auditing is now used to prevent corruption rather than handle corruption after it occurs. This represents a significant improvement to the Civil Service Reform Plan.

The SMG’s pioneering example also inspired the MOI in November 2015 to change its rules on disciplining local government employees for bribery, lowering the minimum punishable gifts value from KRW 3 million to KRW 1 million, on a par with the SMG’s minimum.

A telephone opinion poll on 1,000 citizens in Seoul in September 2015 showed that 51.2 percent of them were favorable toward the SMG’s efforts for integrity in civil service. Another opinion poll on 1,620 SMG employees revealed that 89 percent of them confirmed the policy’s effect of increasing alertness against corruption in the civil service. Another 93 percent expressed an expectation that the reform plan would significantly contribute to improving civil service integrity. Since 2014, the Civil Service Reform Plan has strengthened the integrity and trustworthiness of governance in Seoul, making the city’s policies more sustainable.

Expectancy effects & Need for Improvement

In July 2015, to ensure the effective implementation of the new Code of Conduct for SMG employees, the SMG transformed the single Auditing Officer System into the Auditing Committee, reporting directly to the Mayor. Consisting of one chair and seven independent experts, the Auditing Committee reviews and declines auditing plans and outcomes through mutual discussion to enhance the fairness and transparency of the auditing results. Two of the members on the committee are appointed by Seoul Metropolitan Council nomination. Making the Seoul Metropolitan Council accountable for auditing in this way has also led to increases in the budget for the auditing committee.

In 2016, the budget for the Auditing Committee, together with related activities for fostering a culture of integrity, was KRW 798 million, up by 22 percent from the KRW 651 million provided in 2015. The budget further increased to KRW 948 million in 2017, up by 18 percent from 2016 due to the operation of the Public Interest Auditing Group.

The heads of auditing departments at the SMG, district offices, and other affiliate organizations continue to participate in the Auditing Council to share best practices, organize joint training sessions for their respective employees, and engage in in-depth debates on auditing policy measures. The council met eight times in 2016.

In August 2016, the scope of the Civil Service Reform Plan’s influence was expanded to encompass not only the 40,000 employees of the SMG, but also the 25,000 employees of 21 affiliate organizations. Integrity education and training continue to be provided for the integrity officers of various auditing departments, and an anti-corruption meeting is held at the end of each year, at which participants can share experiences and lessons learned.

The SMG has also appointed an Integrity Policy Advisory Committee, consisting of 13 outside experts (including NGO representatives and journalists) to monitor and provide feedback on the entirety of its integrity policy measures. In addition, the SMG was the first local government in Korea to assemble a Public Interest Auditing Group of ombudsmen consisting of 15 experts, including accountants and lawyers. The group is charged with auditing the private-sector commission and subsidization projects on a trial basis. This has further strengthened the SMG’s public-private partnership in governance.

Department / Contact

  • International Relations Division, Seoul Metropolitan Government   /  international@seoul.go.kr

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