Freedom of Information (FoI) Action Group
1. How the Freedom of Information Action Group Started Out
In Korea the Freedom of Information Act was enacted on the 31st of December, 1996, and after an extension period of one year was enforced on the first of January, 1998. Prior to the passage of the Freedom of Information Act, civic organizations had long been active in the FoI-movement and will now have to emphasize proper execution of the Freedom of Information Act.
The PSPD has decided to play an active role in creating a transparent society and thus started its FoI Action Group on the 19th of May, 1998.
At first the professional supporters of the group consisted of five lawyers and one law professor. However, now more professionals from other fields such document management or public administration are participating in the activities of the group.
2. Activities of the FoI Action Group
1) In 1998
In the first year of the existence of the Freedom of Information Act, the FoI Action group’s prime task was to spread understanding of the Act among the public. Thus it primarily requested access to information on issues that would provoke public interest.
The Action Group also tried to access information regarding the national budget. However, the responsible administrative offices reactions to such requests were more than reluctant. Even access to Information request forms were never prepared. Many other administrative offices simply refused to release information that should have legally been accessible by the public.
Thus from the outset of the Action Group was forced to file a suit against those departments on grounds of having obstructed access to information. The PSPD’s FoI Action Group also submitted petitions to the Blue House(presidential residence) and related administrative departments in an effort to reform the Freedom of Information Act. These included qualification measures for public officers to achieve a proper understanding of the Act; means to reach a broader public awareness of the Act; stricter enforcement of the release of original documents and various other reform plans.
Alongside those petitions, the FoI Action Group discussed various issues concerning the denial of access to information.
2) In 1999
The Freedom of Information Law Act at the PSPD had set a final goal of inspecting the national budget and had played an active role in the taxpayer procession law to prohibit waste of the national budget. Especially they had organized the union to guard the national budget in June, 1999 and had held a conference to discuss the reformation of the sunshine law after that.
In May, 1999, the team had published the white book on the sunshine law to commemorate the first year after its foundation at a press center and they checked out difficulties in applying the Freedom of Information Law at the same time. A big deal of PR was conducted in time through the PSPD website, by providing information Law and the Freedom of Information Law Act. The counseling on requests regarding the Freedom of Information Law Act at the PSPD website was also helpful for the public in understanding the necessity of their activity.
3) In the first term of 2000
The Freedom of Information Law Act at the PSPD has held a workshop to request the information relating to public servants subsistence allowances. After the workshop, 42 civil organizations gathered, nation-wide, and started the nation-wide network to request the release of the information on public servants subsistence allowances. They demanded the release of the information on the expenditure of the 132 local governments as a first step. Now they have a plan to announce to the public the result of the request soon.
The activity observing the national budget spending has been practiced successfully in 2000. The union to guard the national budget spending has found out that 1,549 billion won was not used out of the 2,228 billion won budget in operating parking lots of each ward office in Seoul. In the next six months, they are going to campaign to prohibit the waste of the national budget resources. The team is committed to doing its best to implement the law that prohibits wasteful fiscal spending by submitting a petition; holding public hearings; and signature collecting archives from September.
3. Wide participation throughout the country on the Freedom of Information Law Act
More and more local and central civil organizations are participating in the Freedom of Information Law Act nation-wide, demanding the use of information for educational and environmental issues.
Unfortunately, local organizations have still problems to overcome, caused by the lack of participating lawyers and cannot benefit from legal support. Therefore the Freedom of Information Law Act at the PSPD is trying to support the local activities by providing a Manual for the Freedom of Information Law Act, and trying to establish a lawyers association for information release.
4. Difficulties in procedure of the Freedom of Information Law Act
The biggest problem is the obstructive and indifferent attitude of public servant on the issue of information release. Moreover, even when they disclose the requested documents, they do not disclose the originals but fakes. It has been the main hitch to the public in making use of the Freedom of Information Law, so the released servants’ proper understanding the law would be the most crucial task.
5. The future plan of the Freedom of Information Law Act at the PSPD
First, they are going to try their best in the settlement of the information release system by the reform of the Freedom of Information Law, education of the public on the issue, or the publishing of a manual on the Freedom of Information Law. Second, they will continue their ‘atchdog’ role of the national budget spending. This is a basic civil action for the taxpayers rights. The information about spending matters of national budget should be revealed at first. The Freedom of Information Law Act at the PSPD will continue its activities so that more citizens will know how their taxes are spent.
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