Tracking the work of government officials online to fight corruption

The city government in Seoul, South Korea, has created an online database to increase government transparency. Online Procedures Enhancement for Civil Applications (OPEN) allows city residents to monitor details of civil applications related to 70 municipal government tasks that have been identified as the most prone to corruption, including housing and construction projects, environmental regulation and urban planning.

Before OPEN’s development, applicants for government permits were not able to see how their applications were being processed. The process was not transparent, which allowed corrupt government officials to de­mand a bribe to move the application forward.

Now, when officials receive or update applications, they fill out standardized data entry forms. The forms are used by each department to update the online database. Through the database, applicants can find out who has their applications, when they can expect the application process to be complete, reasons for delay and, if an application has been declined, reasons for its rejection.

OPEN was instituted in conjunction with other initiatives to fight corruption. These include stricter penalties for officials who solicit or accept bribes, a Corruption Report Card to the mayor, a phone line citizens can use to alert the mayor’s offices to cases of corruption and rotating officials among departments to prevent cronyism.

The OPEN website receives about 2,500 hits per day. An Internet survey by the Seoul City Government reported that 78.7 percent of citizens surveyed believed OPEN was effectively decreasing government corruption. Recent­ly, the government also started disclosing information about 35 city government committees. This means that citizens can also monitor the management of committees through the OPEN System.

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

In South Korea the government of Seoul is encouraging its own officials to act more honestly by sharing critical information with anyone who has an Internet connection.

While OPEN serves to prevent corruption in individual applications for government services, it is also an inter­vention on a broader level, seeking to end ongoing abuses. One factor in the system’s success has been the active involvement and ongoing support of the mayor’s office. Without such support of high-ranking people with public legitimacy, a system like OPEN would be difficult to implement. The success of this anti-corruption tactic is also strengthened by widespread Internet use in the country.