e-Government of Seoul opens a new chapter of transparency, efficiency and public participation

Date 2014-08-05 Category E-Government Updater scaadmin
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■ Corruption and distrust of the government 

The city of Seoul took a big leap within the 60 years, mainly thanks to the leadership of the government. Its dual achievement of economic development and democratic institution was remarkable. However, corruptions and irrationalities persisted for long. In late 1990s, the annual budget of the city totaled KRW 8 trillion and even exceeded KRW 10 trillion when combined with the budget of its agencies and district (gu) offices. Some 50,000 people were working or involved in the city government. With such a large size of budget and a large group of officials, their corruptions were everywhere in the life of the 10 million citizens of Seoul. 
The government conducted a massive crackdown on all of its agencies for two months from mid-October in 1998. It uncovered 437 low-to-mid-level corruptionists, arrested 261 of them and charged the remaining 176 without detention. The Seoul Metropolitan Government represented the largest part, with its 46 officials charged. The most common type of corruption was bribery, committed by 312 officials or 71.4% of the total. In Gwanak-gu office of Seoul, a seventh-grade official received some KRW 20 million in total on 305 occasions from January 1995 to March 1999, while another official at the same grade received some KRW 17 million on 291 occasions in total from January 1995 to January 1997. Corruptions occurred regardless of grade, but in a more intense manner among lower grade officials.  Distrust among the people toward the public officials were deepening.

■ July 1998: The 2nd elected mayor declares the "fight against corruption"

In July 1998, Mayor Goh Kun, the second mayor to be elected by popular vote, took office. He was involved in a fight against corruption and had to resign in 1991, when a bribery scandal broke with regard to the Suseo-area housing land development plan during his previous mayoral term. Coming back to the Mayor's office in 1998, he declared the second fight against corruption. The city of Seoul then launched an anti-corruption campaign to ensure a transparent administration. It aimed to maximize the effect of the campaign by pursuing cause detection, punishment, transparency measures and public-private coordination. It detected and removed causes of corruption by conducting a ground-breaking regulations reform and abolishment of project permission assignment system. It also tried to punish strongly the corruptionists to warn others as well, by receiving "Corruption-reporting postcards directly delivered to the mayor".  At the same time, the city calculated and disclosed anti-corruption index of each city department and project sector in order to ensure uprightness and transparency of administration. It also worked on public-private coordination, by, for example, advancing a clean-handed contract system in partnership with civic groups. 

■ Another corruption scandal breaks in Seoul in January 1991

Despite such an endeavor, on 19th January 1999, the newly-appointed chief of the Administrative Bureau—a position supposed to play the key role in the anti-corruption campaign—was arrested for taking bribes. It was because he had allegedly received some tens of millions of won in exchange of permission for change of land shape and quality two years ago, when he was serving as the vice mayor of a district in Seoul. Mayor Goh was tremendously shocked by this scandal and launched a radical new system of disclosing civil petitions online. 
Four high-rank officials, namely the Director-General of Policy Planning, the Director-General of Local Economy, the Director-General of Administration and the Chief of Park & Landscape Management Office, were arrested  for bribery. Corruption was prevalent all over the city government from the lowest to the highest level. However, the city officials rather argued that Seoul was not the only city where corruption occurred, even saying "we were simply unlucky to be uncovered". Such a statement shows clearly how ignorant the city officials of Seoul were toward the corruption. 

■ Online Disclosure of civil petitions

In the face of an unprecedented arrest of four top officials, Mayor Goh came up with a radical solution. 
‘What if we receive all petitions related to rights and interests on the Internet and disclose the process of dealing with them also on the Internet?’  In 25th January 1999, Mayor Goh proposed, as the second step of anti-corruption campaign, that the city government develop a new system that can ensure transparency, prevent irregularities and satisfy the citizens' right to know by disclosure of administrative process. Upon his proposal, the city started to develop an open online civil petition system. Concerns over corruption, combined with advanced ICT technologies, increase of computer users, enactment of the Administrative Procedure Act as well as the Freedom of Information Act, and increase of government responsibility and citizen participation due to the introduction of election-based self-governing system in local governments altogether led to a trend of pursuing a transparent administration.

Introduction of OPEN (Online Procedures ENhancement for Civil Application)

2.1 Building the OPEN structure

Just like the sunshine that best kills the germs, the OPEN system aimed to greatly enhance the transparency of administrative procedures and to prevent corruption by allowing both citizens and the public sector to monitor the procedures. 

Purpose of the OPEN

The OPEN system basically sought to prevent irregularities and corruptions. Its purpose can be explained in three directions: 

Firstly, it aimed to ensure transparency by public monitoring and build trust by allowing anyone to see the petitions and petition-dealing procedures on the Internet. By disclosing the procedures on a real-time basis, the city sought to prevent irregularities in the administration. This was an effort to ensure transparency, which is the core of the anti-corruption campaign. 
Secondly, it aimed to enhance the credibility of the administration. The city or the public could not restore the credibility of the administration: A two-way effort is necessary. In order to ensure efficiency, transparency and customer-orientedness, the city aimed to create a system that can satisfy both citizens and the city government, by ensuring citizens' participation.  
Thirdly, the system sought to improve access of the citizens to the administration. Citizens were enabled to follow their petitions on the Internet from their reception to completion, with an improved accessibility. By making the administrative service easier and more affordable for the citizens, the city laid the groundwork for better communication between the citizens and the city government to create a highly participatory governance. 

Launch of the OPEN and its coverage

The city government had to build the system and launch it within less than three months. The OPEN system was launched in 15th April 1999. It was decided that the system would start with disclosing corruption-vulnerable petitions: petitions that are complex, exposed to rights and interest issues of outside stakeholders, and prone to requests for special consideration.

At first, petitions in 26 procedures of work were disclosed. 28 procedures in total were added on two occasions in 2000. As a result, 54 procedures of work categorized in 10 sectors that would have the greatest corruption-deterring effect were disclosed on the Internet. The city had each of its departments to input the procedure from petition reception to final approval, so that the filers could follow the procedure on a real-time basis on line. For example, a citizen who submitted a request for construction permission could easily check the current status of his/her request and the future direction by going online at home or in the office, without having to call or meet the responsible official.  






Transportation Impact Assessment

Adjustment of taxi fare

Creation or adjustment of short-haul bus routes

Adjustment of artery bus routes

Permission for express/suburban bus terminal project

Registration and administrative measures for vehicle management businesses

Registration for vehicle cargo transportation businesses 

Administrative measures for mover-broker companies

Administrative measures for vehicles for business

Permission for transfer of personal taxi business license



Construction of facilities

Technical support for construction

Annual unit-price contract for facility maintenance and repair

Registration of general and special construction businesses

Permission for river occupation

Housing Construction

Housing constructino project

Construction permission and deliberation

Housing redevelopment project

Downtown redevelopment project

Residential environment improvement project

Administrative measures for architects

Permission for outdoor ads

Industry and Economy

Adjustment of consumer gas prices

Registration for opening and alteration of large-sized shops

Support fund for small and medium enterprises

Approval and registration for construction of factories

Permission and administrative measures for gas businesses

Permission and administrative measures for livestock businesses

Registration and administrative measures for gas sales businesses (gas stations)


Purchase of land for park

Permission for waste treatment and bulk contract

Permission and administrative measures for businesses related to feces, urine, etc.

Registration and administrative measures for checkup agents of vehicles in use

Permission and administrative measures for establishment of businesses generating noise and vibration

In-advance/alteration declaration and administrative measures for businesses emitting fugitive dust

Registration and administrative measures for businesses using toxins

Culture and Tourism

Deliberations for artwork installation in buildings

Registration and administrative measures for sports facilities 

Approval of tourist project plan

Registration of tourist businesses

Advancement of local cultural events

Urban planning

Permission for activities that  change land quality and shape

Confirmation and alteration of urban plan

Permission for change of land quality and shape in development-restricted zones 


Checkup upon completion of firefighting facilities

Permission for installation, checkup upon completion and administrative measures of facilities producing risky substances

Health & Welfare

Commissioning contract of social welfare facilities

Permission and administrative measures for adult entertainment clubs


Procurement of goods


Establishment of infrastructure and hardware

In order to ensure an efficient automation of administration, the Seoul Metropolitan Government came up with a broadband network establishment plan and installed ATM exchangers at the main and annex buildings of city hall, the Information Management Office, and the 25 district offices, which were connected to the central Information Management Office on E1-grade speed (2Mbps). The network started operation in 1997. In January 2001, the city devised a framework plan to build a "data highway" that would allow STM-4 grade speed (622Mbps) instead of the previous level at E1 (2Mbps), by routing fiber-optic cables in the common ducts of the subway routes in Seoul. The Data Highway project was a three-year project (2000-02) aimed at establishing a data infrastructure that would connect 30 agencies under the city government. Fiber-optic cables dedicated for this project were to be routed in the common ducts, taking advantage of both the old and new subway routes. Also, underground duct lines were to be created to connect the government offices and the mechanical room of the nearest subway station via fiber-optic cables. Six selected key points were connected to one another with a speed of 2.5Gbps, while the remaining 24 offices were connected via 622-Mbps branch networks.  Each nod was tied in the form of ring, in order to duplicate the circuit for backup, ensure the credibility, and enable a one-stop management of the network. At the same time, factors such as network extensibility, economic feasibility and adaptability of future technologies, compatibility with other standard networks were taken into consideration for an efficient system management. 

2.2 Features of the OPEN system

From passive to active disclosure of administrative process related to petitions

The Information Disclosure Act of that time stipulated that the government didn't need to disclose the information unless disclosure request is submitted by the people. However, the OPEN system of Seoul enabled a step-by-step disclosure of administrative process without even any request from the people, innovatively enhancing the transparency. 

Real-time disclosure of the whole process 

The OPEN system disclosed each step of petition treatment from reception to final results on a real-time basis. It also displayed a flow chart to let citizens, who are not familiar with the administrative process, anticipate the process going forward. Disclosing the whole process of dealing with petitions played the biggest role in deterring irregularities and corruptions, because it enabled everyone to know who made what decision at which point. It also enhanced efficiency of internal audit and monitoring to uncover and control irregularities and corruptions. The OPEN system was synched to the electronic document approval system, which enabled citizens to watch the decision-making process of the city on a real-time basis. 

Diverse and detailed data disclosure

The data disclosed at the OPEN system is diverse and detailed: basically included are the date of petition submission, results of consideration of relevant issues, results of petition treatment, future direction, contact of the department and the official in charge. This helped deter corruptions previously caused by anonymity. Also, the system provided information on relevant rules, regulations, work procedures and necessary document to help citizens better understand the process. 

Software-based approach

The OPEN system took a software-based approach: it took advantage of the existing ICT technology in a strategic manner, rather than focusing on establishing a new hardware system. Instead of establishing a new database or network, it enabled citizens to connect to the petition procedures easily on the Internet. 

Positive results of the OPEN system of Seoul

The OPEN system made practical contribution to eradication of corruptions of the public officials in the course of dealing with petitions. People no more needed to mobilize an acquaintance in the city hall or asked to pay an "express charge." The process of dealing with petitions was accelerated, with no more delay due to unclear reasons. Overall, the system effectively enhanced efficiency and quality of civil service. 

3.1 Decrease of corrupted public officials

Eradication of corruptions and reduction of administrative irregularities were the most important purpose of introducing the OPEN system. In conclusion, the system effectively worked. Since 1999 when the OPEN system was introduced, the number of public officials involved in corruptions or irregularities dropped by a significant margin. The audit team of the Seoul Metropolitan Government uncovered an average of 79.1 corrupted officials after the introduction of the OPEN system, down 30.9% from the previous average of 114.5 officials. The number of bribery cases detected halved while dereliction of duties decreased by 72.2%. In terms of sector, corruptions committed by officials in charge of housing and construction projects accounted for 17.8% of the total after the OPEN system introduction, a sharp drop from 42.9% prior to the system introduction.

<Table 2> Results of corruption crackdown on officials of Seoul city and other government agencies


Total corrupted 

Type of corruption

Sector of corruption (Seoul city)


Public sector overall


Dereliction of duties


Housing & Construction



YearSeoulPublic sector overallSeoul

Public sector overall


Public sector overall


Public sector overall

Housing & ConstructionSanitation






































































































































95-98 average
























Average after '99
















































3.2 Restoration of citizens' confidence

Survey on recognition of corruption decrease level

68.7% of citizen respondents said that corruption had decreased since the introduction of the OPEN system. 45.1% of public officials responded in the same way: a little bit lower than the rate of positive response among the citizen respondents. Overall, the system was received widely in a positive way that it helped decrease corruption.

Corruption-eradication effect by sector: Housing, civil engineering, urban planning

According to the survey among the public officials, the effect of the system was the most significant in the housing sector (29.8%), followed by the civil engineering (17%) and the urban planning (9.9%) sectors. The order was similar in the survey among the experts. Transportation and environment sectors came in the fourth and fifth place among the public officials, while experts pointed out administration and industry & economy next. 

3.3 Enhanced administrative efficiency

Increased communication between departments

59% or more than half of public officials responded that they have experiences of understanding the works of their colleagues, subordinates or bosses via the OPEN system. Also, 75% of them said that the OPEN system helped them better understand the work of their colleagues.  

Benefits of the OPEN system: Enhanced trust between government and citizens, enhanced efficiency 

To the question "what benefit will the OPEN system have in the petition process and administrative organization?", 22% of public officials pointed out confidence-building between the government and the citizens, while 17.5% pointed reduction of irregularities by enhanced transparency. For the same question, citizen respondent selected enhanced efficiency (36.5%) and reduction of irregularities (25.3%). In conclusion, most of citizens viewed that the OPEN system helped enhance the administrative efficiency while the public officials mostly appreciated the effect of confidence and transparency building. 

10% increase in the speed of dealing with petitions

Before the introduction of the OPEN system, it took an average of 7.7 days to complete the treatment of a 10-day due petition. The duration decreased to 7 days after the introduction of the system, marking an average of 10% speed-up. 


Framework of the OPEN system development

Establishment of an e-Government system and appointment of a CIO positiion

Since Mayor Goh took office in 1998, the city of Seoul worked to establish an efficient e-Government system that included an administrative BPR (Business Process Re-engineering) and an electronic petition system. In 1999, the city became the first government agency in Korea to appoint a Chief Information Officer (CIO). It also created a city-dedicated high-speed optical communication network (E-Seoul net) utilizing the tunnels of 8 subway lines, and stabilized the electronic document approval system. 

Important role of the Audit division

The secret of successful establishment of the OPEN system within less than three months lied in a close cooperation between the Audit Division and the Informatization Development division. The audit team helped clarify which procedures and processes to disclose, which was an important question in realizing the OPEN system. The involvement of the audit team also helped encourage the cooperation of all the other departments and overcome the concerns over any uncertainty. The Audit Division selected the work procedures to be disclosed via the OPEN system, identified key steps of the procedures and decided the form and contents of disclosure for each step. The Informatization Development Division, for its part, sought the most effective ways to display the petition procedures on the Internet. While the Audit Division took the lead in selecting and identifying when and how the specific data would be disclosed, the Informatization Development Division applied the analyses by the audit team to the actual system. 


Challenges and solutions in the course of implementation

Since the OPEN system was a completely new trial for the Seoul Metropolitan Government, debates were heated over what data should be disclosed to what extent. The public officials resisted to the system.  

■ Difficulties in selecting the scope and step of data disclosure

The city eventually aimed to disclose all the petition procedures via the OPEN system. However, it selected some of the procedures to disclose in priority given that the system is in its initial stage. Based on the following three criteria, 25 procedures were selected at first: 

- Procedures where corruptions occurred in the past and evoked criticism. 

- Procedures which are complex and exposed to possibility of preferentialism 

- Procedures where involvement of the third-party stakeholders can be prevented by disclosing the data

■ Expansion of disclosure scope and target

At the initial stage, target procedures to disclose were selected in accordance with their relevance with corruption and irregularities. At the next stage, procedures to disclose were added in order to ensure transparency, efficiency and customer-orientedness. The scope of disclosure was expanded in 2000 to include 54 procedures in 10 sectors. 

■ Controversies over the scope of disclosure

Controversies were persistent over to what extent to disclose the administrative process inside the city government. It had been a widely-accepted norm to disclose only the final decision, in order to minimize confusion. However, the OPEN system took an approach out of the box. The system opened the whole process from the reception of petitions to final results on the Internet, to the same level as disclosed on the intranet of the city government. Executive-level officials were enabled to search all the information on the intranet, while director-level and working-level officials were allowed to search information in their scope of work. 

■ Privacy protection

Big missions of the system included such questions as how to protect the petition filers' privacy, how to check and verify the petitions, how exactly to disclose the fact that the petition was filed, and how to prevent possible leak of private information in the course of dealing with the petitions. 

■ Administrative issue: Standardization of document templates

One of the preconditions for the OPEN system was standardization of the document templates and processes of the administration. However, it was found while developing the OPEN system that the city government and the district offices had all been using different templates and processes. Even in the same office, different divisions were using different paper forms. The city therefore made it a priority to unify the document templates and forms as well as detailed petition procedures. It was a very time-consuming and difficult step, as the city and the district offices had very different working practices. 

■ Resistance from the public officials

In the past, the petition procedures were considered to be at the public officials' discretion. The officials therefore were strongly resistant and rejective to disclosing the procedures and getting intervened. As they were habituated to dealing with petitions without disclosing, they were not eager to adapt to the introduction of the OPEN system. To innovate such an organizational culture, the city government worked to settle the system as early as possible by enforcing the officials to follow the system and warning the officials who don't follow the system that there would be special investigation unless they would disclose the data. 

Conclusion and Implications

The OPEN system as well as the electronic document approval system of the Seoul Metropolitan Government had a bigger impact and effect than simply achieving the automation. The transition to e-Government meant an innovation that fundamentally changed the administrative framework into a citizen-led governance system in a more efficient, productive, transparent and customer-oriented way. 

In particular, the city of Seoul was the first government agency in Korea to introduce the OPEN system and the electronic document approval system. In this way, Seoul took the lead in transforming the central government and other local governments into e-Governments. Such an experience of the Seoul Metropolitan Government will be able to set an example for other cities in the world can follow in their move toward e-Government.  

Stepping stone for a genuine e-Government: the OPEN system

The e-Government was a priority project not only for the Seoul Metropolitan Government, but also for the central government as a whole. Seoul's experience in operating the OPEN system provided answers to uncertainties and concerns over the new electronic system. The positive and negative effects of the automated system, challenges and efforts to overcome them in Seoul provided valuable lessons to the central government as well as other local governments. 

Sunshine is the best germicide: Anti-corruption effect of transparency

As shown in the results of survey and audit conducted by the city, the OPEN system contributed greatly to enhancing the transparency of Seoul administration, thereby reducing corruption and building confidence of the citizens. Even though it would be difficult to strictly verify the real effectiveness of the system in corruption eradication, the system did successfully ensure transparency and deter corruptions caused in the past by the information asymmetry between the public officials and the citizens.

Mayor's leadership and the dedication of working-level officials

It was remarkable that such a new system as the OPEN was launched within two  months and a half. The mayor's strong leadership played the biggest part in realizing the idea into specific programs, at the same time overcoming difficulties such as resistance from the public officials. When it wasn't even legally stipulated that active disclosure of data was necessary, the mayoral leadership was indispensible in such an innovative approach as disclosing each step of the petition procedure on the Internet. 

Working framework

The cooperation between the Audit Division and the Informatization Development Division was important in developing the OPEN system. The city of Seoul proudly achieved a close coordination between the "business intelligence" to determine the scope, content, step and responsibility of data disclosure and the "technical intelligence" to realize the ideas. An ongoing maintenance by the informatization team after the launch of the OPEN system was also important in stabilizing the system.

Innovation in organizational culture

As revealed in the experience of Seoul, an introduction of such an innovative system as the OPEN requires technical, administrative capabilities as well as solutions to overcome difficulties in organizational culture. The city came up with a strong administrative measure, including strong warnings and audit, to those officials in both the city and district offices who sticked to the old habits and didn't follow the new system. Thanks to such a strong drive, the informatization team and the audit team were relieved of concerns and able to focus on system development. Seoul's experience with the OPEN system shows that strong leadership and stabilization effort are both important in realizing an e-Government. It also shows how the working-level divisions should be encouraged to join the system and how an institutional framework should be devised. The city of Seoul continued moving toward e-Government even after the launch of the OPEN system. In April 2000, it became the first Korean government agency to adopt the electronic document approval system. Since 2000, the Seoul Metropolitan Government reinforced its electronic drive to integrate information services and encourage citizens' participation. The SMG worked on the "policy to link and integrate information services and resources" in 2003-04,  the "sophistication of integrated data resources and encouragement of citizens' e-Government service use" in 2005-06, and the "ubiquitous city plan" in 2006-10. Since 2011, it launched the "Smart Seoul" campaign and continued to work to create a smart-technology-based city government that adapts to the development of ICT technologies. It is becoming a leading e-Government city by forging ties with global cities and advancing the city's brand as a cutting-edge ICT city. Thanks to such an effort, the city of Seoul ranked first in the World City e-Government Survey for four consecutive years since 2003, hosted the inaugural general meeting of the WeGO (World e-Government Organization), and won the second prize in the UN Public Services Awards with its "Oasis of 10 Million's Imaginations" project.