Trends and Patterns of Public Information Disclosure in Korean Government

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1 Trends and Patterns of Public Information Disclosure in Korean Government Myoung Jin Lee Doctoral Candidate Yousei University Department of Public Administration M. Jae Moon Underwood distinguished Professor Yonsei University Department of Public Administration 1

2 Introduction This study is designed to explore attitudes of public agencies toward public information disclosure. Right to information is well known as freedom of information, the right to access information held by public bodies. Right to information is one of the fundamental factors constructing democracy, and it consists with participation to public decision-making, right to express, good governance, accountability and anti-corruption. Many countries institutionalized right to information as act or law. One of the famous act that realize right to information is Freedom of Information Act of USA. The Information disclosure institution makes duties to public organization, like a duty to record public information, a duty to management public information, a duty to disclose public information. Information disclosure is not an easy duty to do perfectly, so sometimes governments show a tendency to close information, and it conflicts with their information disclosure duty. Pozen (2005) mentioned segregation provision and mosaic theory in information disclosure. Mosaic theory is gathering small piece of information could make serious information especially harmful on national security. So in mosaic theory, any information that could have possibility to connect other information and make dangerous information for public or society should be closed. In the other hand, segregation provision insists maximum information disclosure to public as much as governments can. If there is some part of information to harmful privacy or public interests, then government should disclose the rest of information except only that part. Public organizations insist mosaic theory as their reason to close information. Information disclosure requestors or civil organizations insist maximum disclosure based on segregation provision. This study focus on 1) the attitudes of public agencies toward public information disclosure, 2) measure the performance of public agencies, and 3) behavioral patterns of central agencies in 2

3 disclosing public information. Analyzing the Korean national public information disclosure data collected between 1997 and 2007, we attempt to identify behavioral patterns of Korean central agencies. The performance of public agencies information disclosure can be measured in three ways: 1) qualitative performance of public information disclosure, 2) quantitative performance of public information disclosure, and 3) the speed of processing citizens' information requests. Considering these three different measures of performance about public information disclosure, we examine how central agencies are different in doing public information disclosure and what causes this difference in disclosure patterns among agencies Right to Information Right to information is important in many points of views. In democratic way, people have to know public information to participate making public decisions. In human right, people have the right to express and people have to know information to express their opinion and thinking. For good governance, base of public organization s accountability and anti-corruption, public information has to be an accessible location to everybody. So, now over 100 countries are under this public information disclosure legislation or regulation, the information disclosure institution. Stabilization of institution If introducing a new institution, like public information disclosure in about 100 countries, then there will be some stabilization period of institution. Stabilization process is diverse depending on what kinds of institution it is initiated. There are mainly two subjective bodies around institution, government and citizen, and stabilization process is affected by interaction of 3

4 these two bodies. In many cases, government (sometimes including small group of citizen, like interest group) is on designing part of initiated institution and citizen (lots of the other citizens) react about institution already built. But sometimes huge public opinion move and force government to make some institution, like information disclosure act. We can distribute 3 types of stabilization by Speed and Leading part and direction. Speed reflects how long does institution take to the stabilization phase from its initiation. Leading part and direction reflects which body is the first motivation is raised from and which body is more actively lead to formulate institution. Radical / Policy-Push Intermediate / Interaction Incremental / Citizen-Pull The First one is radical stabilization module, in policy-pushing direction. In this case government takes important leading role in making or reforming institution. It tends to use strong tools like regulation, so institutions are quickly settle down in both governments and citizens. The opposite one is incremental stabilization, in citizen-pulling direction. In this case, government reflects citizens action, so it takes more time, and changes slowly. Sometimes government can have some resistance about these kinds of institution then it takes more time for doing adjustment and revising from its initiation. Between these radical and incremental stabilization, there is an intermediate module, in active interaction between two bodies. Government has their own learning period and citizens also have their own learning process. So, there can be interaction and coordination between two actors. 4

5 Social Learning about New Institution In previously we considered two actors, government and citizens. We can distribute actors more. Government has two parts, decision making part and implementing part. So there can be gap between these two parts even in the same government. Public agencies attitude toward information disclosure is a little different from political decision part, like elected public servants. In Korean case, public opinion pushed president Kim Young-sam, and he prepare the institution with research team consisting of public officers and scholars. They designed information disclosure act with reference to other countries cases, theories and researches. When the act began in 1996, citizen wanted this institution but they did not know how the Information Disclosure Act works in detail, and public agencies, the implanting part of government are not familiar with this new act as much as citizens. Not just citizens, public agencies also needed to learn and get used to the institution. They need to understand the meaning of institution, and they have to coordinate it with their work value. Public Information Disclosure in Korea Public information disclosure legislation in Korea was first made not by the central government but by a local government. It began in 1991 from one of Korean local governments Chungju city. The Chungju Local Council passed a rule that stipulates the Chungju city to disclose public information. Chungju mayor did not want to make an information disclosure institution, and he vetoed that local act. Legally mayor in Korea has a right to veto local council s decision one time, so Chungju Local Council repassed that act. But, Chungju mayor vetoed that act again, that was an illegal veto. This case grew a huge dispute between Chungju council and 5

6 mayor and it had gone to the court. It became a big issue at that time in Korea, and made a lot of public opinion about right to information and information disclosure. The final decision by the Supreme Court favored the Chungju Local Council. That case had very symbolic meaning of democracy in Korea especially the end of formal military presidency. In 1992 there was a presidential election in Korea. At that time Korea had had 3 presidents who came from military service over 20 years, and citizen wanted a president who represent society more, and who understand democratic procedure more. Information disclosure institution was a good way to show their democratic wills, and every candidates insisted public information disclosure as their president campaign. The next president who was elected in 1992 was Kim Young-sam, and he prepared to legislation of information disclosure as he promised. After preparing period, Korean Public Information Disclosure Act was built in This act delayed 1 year in national assembly, and passed in The Public Information Disclosure Act allows citizens to demand public information held by public agencies (Banisar, 2006). Once it demanded, governments should provide the requested information. Government agencies can refuse disclosing requested information exceptionally only in the case that it is one of the secrets imposed by laws or the information that could harm public security, social unification, privacy, or private property. 6

7 [Figure 1] Process of Information disclosure of Korea The process of public information disclosure consists of a few steps as shown in Figure 1. Citizens or foreigners who stay in Korea can request public information to Korean government. Once citizen requests information to a public agency, the requested agency should provide the information to the citizen as the act stipulates. With the above mentioned reasons such as national security, social integration, privacy, etc., government agency can decide not to provide the information to the citizen. So, Public organizations decided whether disclose information or not, in the first time. This is the first procedure of process, agencies decision. Next procedure is citizens reaction. If the agencies decision is disclosing information, of course citizens have no objection. But if agencies decision is closing information for some reasons like national security etc., then citizens can judge agencies reason and raise an objection. 7

8 If the objection is accepted by agencies, then agencies adjust their decision to information disclosure. If the objection refused again, then the citizen can take the case to the Administrative Tribunal under the Prime Minister s Office. Depending on the committee s decision, the citizen can take the case to the court for a final decision. Korean public information disclosure institution gives 3 times of objection chance to citizens. The 1 st step is the agency can do reconsideration about their first decision. And if still the agency s reaction is information closure, citizens have 2 nd chance to raise objection about information closure. And this time auditor agencies judge the implementing agencies closure decision. And if still government s reaction is closure, then citizen sue this case to public administrative court, and ask judicial judgment about that closure. So, adding these others judgment, citizens request about public information disclosure can have final decision. We focused on these differences between agencies decision and other s judging. This information can give us the agencies attitude toward information disclosure. The Nature and Types of Public Information Disclosure Behavior of Central Agencies According to the Public Information Disclosure Act, public agencies should disclose public information to the public and make it available to those who requested it unless the disclosure harms national security, privacy, social integration, and other reasons that the law stipulates as exceptional cases. Since the act was enacted in 1996, Korean public agencies have been making great efforts to disclose public information, which makes them more transparent and accountable. In examining how well and actively public agencies disclose public information, we may investigate two different dimensions: the level of public information disclosure and the speed of public information disclosure. The level of public information disclosure is measured in two ways: quantitative level of 8

9 public information disclosure and qualitative level of public information disclosure. The former indicates among the public information requested to disclose by citizens, how much of them is actually disclosed by central agencies. The latter indicates how actively and correctly central agencies disclose public information including their appropriate closing decisions. The qualitative level is different from the quantitative level in that it only reflects the degree to which an agency disclose public information that is supposed to be disclosed. If an agency did not disclose much information because of national security reason then the agency s qualitative level of public information disclosure might be high though its quantitative level might be low. The speed of public information disclosure refers to how fast an agency discloses public information that is requested to disclose. According to the Public Information Disclosure Act, public agencies should disclose requested information within 15 days and maximally 30 days with an extension. The act was changed that public agencies should provide the public information within 10 days and maximally 20 days with an extension. It is expected that there might be a variation in how actively public agencies disclose public information. For example, Lee and Moon (2010) found that agencies with planning functions are less likely to disclose public information than those of implementation function. In addition, public agencies with a high level of closeness (measured by the number of secret documents produced) are less likely to disclose public information that those of a low level of closeness (Lee and Moon, 2010). As shown in Figure 2, public agencies are categorized into four different types based on the levels of their qualitative and quantitative public information disclosure. An agency with high quantitative and qualitative levels of public information disclosure (Type I) is defined as proactive public information disclosure agency. The opposite case might be a negative public information disclosure agency. A passive type of public information disclosure (Type IV) refers to the agencies which disclose public information passively and often disclose when they should 9

10 do after administrative appeal and legal procedures. Type I: Proactive Public Information Disclosure High Level of Qn - High Level of Ql Public Information Disclosure Type III: Qualitative (Realistic) Public Information Disclosure Type II: Quantitative Public Information Disclosure High Level of Qn - Low Level of Ql Public Information Disclosure Type IV: Negative Public Information Disclosure Low Level of Qn - High Level of Ql Public Information Disclosure Low Level of Qn - Low Level of Ql Public Information Disclosure [Figure 2]. Qualitative (Ql) and Quantitative (Qn) Public Information Disclosure A qualitative (realistic) public information disclosure agency (Type III) is the one which does not actively disclose public information in a quantitative manner but does what is legally supposed to disclose. Agencies in this type are often cautious in disclosing public information but they tend to carefully review legal standings and disclose public information appropriately. Contrastingly, a qualitative public information disclosure agency (Type II) disclose public information actively at the superficial level but it often mishandles disclosing public information and is frequently asked to disclose it following citizen s administrative and legal appeal procedures. Their disclosing information performance looks not so bad, but in fact they can do better and do not do that. Through these 4 types of information disclosure behavior of agencies we analyze the Korean case. Data Collection To examine public information disclosure behaviors of public agencies, we use the National Public Information Disclosure Data collected by the Ministry of Government Administration 10

11 and Home Affairs (MOGAHA, it is later changed to Ministry Of Public Administration and Security in 2008) of Korea. The data have been compiled as part of annual reports published since To maintain the consistency in our analysis of public information disclosure at the agency level, we only use the data up to 2007 because there were substantial public organization changes in 2008 when the Lee Myung-bak administration assumed its political power. The data includes 36 public agencies including cabinet level departments and agencies which can be largely categorized into three main functional areas such as economic affairs, public safety and public governance, and social welfare/social functions. Analysis of Public Information Disclosure Behaviors of Public Agencies The Quantitative Level of Public Information Disclosure Public agencies have different amount of information disclosure requests. To compare the quantitative level of public information disclosure, we need to compare the ratio of actual public information disclosure to the total disclosure requests. From the right to know perspective, the higher the quantitative rate of information disclosure is the more proactive the organization s disclosure information behavior is. One of major principles under the right to know perspective is the principle of maximum disclosure. The quantitative rate of information disclosure is a basic and general indicator which shows how active an agency is in disclosing public information. The quantitative level of public information disclosure can be calculated as the following formula. The Quantitative Level of Public Infomration Disclosure = (Rate of Quantitative Information Disclosure) A A + B 100 A : # of cases to disclose requested public information at the initial stage: disclosing 11

12 information by the public agency when it is requested B: # of cases not to disclose requested public information at the initial stage: closing information by the public agency when it is requested * A, B is in [Figure 1] [Table 1] shows the average quantitative level of public information disclosure for last 10 years. There is no particular trend over the 10 years. But it seems that the quantitative level of public information disclosure stabilized since 2004, when Public Information Disclosure Act is revised. [Table 1] The quantitative level of public information disclosure by three functional areas Year Quantitative Level Area Economic Affairs Public Safety and Public Governance Social Welfare/ Social Functions Except 2000 and 2001, the quantitative level of public information disclosure of the agencies in the social welfare/social function area is higher than two other areas. 12

13 [Figure 3] The quantitative level of public information disclosure by functional areas The Qualitative Level of Public Information Disclosure The quantitative level of public information disclosure is an important criterion with which the attitudes of public agencies toward public information disclosure can be characterized. Due to reasonable exceptions such as national security, privacy, diplomacy, etc., most of public agencies cannot disclose public information at the 100 percent (Lee and Moon, 2010). For example, protecting national security is a more important duty for public interest than that of public information disclosure (Yoo, 2006; Kim, 2006). The qualitative level of public information disclosure indicates how correctly an agency discloses public information. It is often difficult to determine whether particular information can be disclosed or not. The agency should make disclosure decisions at her discretion within the legal framework. The qualitative level of public information disclosure indicates the number of public information disclosure cases at the initial stage in proportion to total number of public information disclosure cases (initial disclosure cases and secondary disclosure cases after citizen s 13

14 appeal and legal procedures). The qualitative level of public information disclosure can be calculated based on the following formula.. The qualitative level of pubilc information disclosure = A D 100 A: # of public information disclosure cases at the initial stage: D: # of total public information disclosure cases [A + C (# of additional public information disclosure cases after appeal and legal procedures)] * A, D is in [Figure 1] As shown in [Table 2], public agencies show very high qualitative level of public information disclosure. It is much higher than quantitative level, which means that public agencies have shown great performance in disclosing public information to the public. But we cannot simply interpret the statistics as public agencies great attitudes and performances about public information disclosure. It might be the case that there were not many cases that citizens disagreed with the government and appealed for reconsideration. If there were some cases, the statistics also suggest that just few appeals be admitted. [Table 2] The average qualitative public information disclosure rates of 3 function- categories Year Opening info. rates Area Economic Affairs Public Safety and Public Governance Social Welfare/ Social Function

15 In other words, not so many citizens appealed to reconsider their request cases once declined or few cases were finally turned over. This might be because the appeal review panel often respects initial decisions of declining public information disclosure requests and rarely makes order of disclosing the initially declined public information. It is also possible that ordinary citizens do not feel empowered enough to appeal to the upper levels and see little chance of turning over the original non-disclosure decisions. [Figure 4] The average qualitative public information disclosure rates of 3 function- categories As shown in [Figure 4], the qualitative level of public information disclosure declines in recent years. This might not be because public agencies became more active in disclosing public information but because requesting citizens have become more active in appealing for reconsideration in cases of non-disclosure decisions by central agencies. The Speed (Processing Time) of Public Information Disclosure In addition to the level of qualitative and quantitative public information disclosure, the speed 15

16 of public information disclosure is also important. Some agencies might be very speedy and responsive to the disclosure requests while others might not be. In fact, information itself is very time sensitive (Lee & Moon, 2010). The value of information might vary depending on the timing of the information acquired. Due to the time sensitivity of information as well as the value of responsiveness, the Public Information Disclosure Act originally required public agencies to respond to the requesting citizens within 15 days and at latest within 30 days with a legitimate extension. It was later changed that public agencies respond to the requesting citizens within 10 days and at latest within 20 days with a legitimate extension. Examining the variation in the speed of public information disclosure among public agencies, we attempted to score the processing time of public information disclosure by assigning 4 to the agencies which respond to the requesting citizens within four days and assigning negative 1 to those which took over 20 days to respond. The specific time weight is in [Table 3] [Table 3] Score weight depending on process time Score weight Within a day Within 3days Within 5days Within 10days Within 20days Over 20days the number of public information disclosure in specific time period Time Score = the number of process DI score weight 10 The distribution of the speed of public information disclosure of 36 public agencies is summarized in [Figure 5]. Many agencies are between 10 ~ 20 points. It means that many public information disclosure requests from citizens are processed within legally mandated period, between 5 ~ 10 days. Since there is a big variation in the number of disclosure requests, the statistics should be carefully interpreted. 16

17 Density time_score [Figure 5] The distribution of the Speed of Public Information Disclosure The analysis with the public information disclosure attitude typology Between 10 years, there are 353 i cases of public information disclosure rates. We classified those 353 cases in the attitude typology of [Table 3]. Because of the size of standard deviation, we used median cluster analysis. The result of median cluster analysis of 353 cases is in [Table 4]. The Qualitative Level of Public Information Disclosure (Ql) High Low The Quantitative Level of Public Information Disclosure (Qn) High Low Type Ⅰ: Proactive 204 Type Ⅱ: Quantitative 23 The average of Ql The average of Ql The average of Qn The average of Qn Type Ⅲ: Realistic 92 Type Ⅳ: Negative 35 The average of Ql The average of Ql The average of Qn The average of Qn [Table 4] Median Cluster Analysis of Quantitative and Qualitative rates of DI 17

18 The most popular type of public information disclosure behavioral characteristics in Korea is the positive type. 57.3% of 353 cases are classified as the positive type. One of the reasons of this phenomenon is due to the overestimation of the qualitative level of public information disclosure in the early period as discussed earlier. Only the Ministry of Labor and the Military Manpower Administration are classified consistently as the positive type for all 10 years. 9.9% of 353 cases are classified as the negative type. The Ministry of Justice seems to be largely belonging to this type. Other organizations categorized into the negative type include the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the National Tax Administration, the National Procurement Office, and the Office of Attorney General. The quantitative type (Type II) is the least type in this analysis. Some of culture-related agencies ii seem to be categorized into this type. The table suggests that there are more realistic type agencies than quantitative type agencies simply because of the possible overestimation of the qualitative level of public information disclosure. The Ministry of Construction & Transportation seems to be categorized into the Type III for eight years out of ten years. Type I High Type II High Qn Low Ql Type III Low Qn High Ql Type IV Low [Table 5] The number of agencies each types over 10 years 18

19 As shown in [Table 5], Low qualitative data (Type II, IV) is quite smaller than high qualitative data, and roughly it grows bigger recently. This does not mean agencies information disclosure behavior getting worse than before. It means agencies and citizens are learning and institution is on the progress of mature and stabilization. Korean public information disclosure is started political symbolic meaning from the top of government. So in starting period, agencies disclosure behavior looks quite good but in fact, disclosure request itself is not so many, and citizens didn t raise objection to agencies decision. After 7-8 years from initiation, citizens learned the way to exercise their right to information. And now information disclosure number and objection numbers grow sharply as shown in [Figure 6] total ask_n objection_n [Figure 6] Total request number and total objection number of citizens of information disclosure Conclusion Based on the case of Korean public agencies, we reviewed the historical institutionalization of public information disclosure and then examined how public agencies respond to citizens public 19

20 information disclosure requests. Considering both quantitative and qualitative levels of public information disclosures as well as the speed to public information disclosure, we investigated variations among public agencies based on the National Public Information Disclosure Data In particular, we attempted to posit four types of public information disclosure behaviors and apply them to Korean public agencies. Along with the course of democratization and social need for more transparent and accountable government, Korean public agencies seem to actively disclose public information despite a relatively short history of the Public Information Disclosure Act of We also learned that quantitative level of public information disclosure has been stabilized and relatively higher than the qualitative level of public information disclosure. The qualitative level of public information disclosure began to decline recently because the number of citizens do not simply accept public agencies initial nondisclosure decision and often make appeals for reconsideration. It seems that more agencies recently turn over their initial non-disclosure decisions and are ordered to disclose requested public information. [Figure 7] Learning process of public agencies including learning effect of citizens 20

21 The difference between low quantitative and high quantitative is affected by the function or level of closeness (Lee and Moon, 2010). And the difference between low qualitative and high qualitative is affected by learning of agencies and citizens. Through the 10 years, lots of agencies have moved their types from Type I and II to Type III and IV. This means agencies and citizen are learning over time, so institutions are settled down. At the initiation of institution, many agencies were in Type I and II not because they are good, but because they operated information disclosure institution roughly, and citizens didn t know how to use this institution. After citizens learning, request numbers and objection numbers are growing, the measurement of agencies disclosure behavior moved to Type III and Type IV. So, in this pattern of information disclosure in Korean central agencies, agencies duty is affected first, and then citizens and agencies learning is affected secondly. In the following, citizens and agencies are mature through learning then many agencies disclosure behavior would be Type I and II again. This is a very beginning step of building a typology and constructing a theory of public information disclosure. Future studies need more in-depth qualitative analyses as well as statistical analyses. We also need theory-driven comparative case studies with both developing and developed countries which are placed in different stages of public information disclosure and democratization. 21

22 References Banisar, D. (2006). Freedom of Information Around the World, Privacy International. Mendel, T. (2008). Freedom of Information: A Comparative Legal Survey. Paris, UNESCO. Kim, C. J. (2006). The Exemptions on Information Disclosure Act and the Secret Protect Duty of Public Employees. Gongbubyeongoo, 35(2). [Korean Language] Lee, M. J., and M. J. Moon. (2010). An Empirical Study of the Effect of Organizational Characteristics on Information Disclosure by Korean Central Agencies, Korean Public Administration Review, 44(1). [Korean Language] Pozen, D. E. (2005) The Mosaic Theory, National Security, and the Freedom of Information Act. Yale Law Journal, p. Yoo, J. T. (2001). Information Disclosure Institution. Gosigye. [Korean Language] i There was government reform in 1998, so 3 agencies (Government Information Agency, Ministry of Unification, Small and Medium Business Administration, and Presidential Commission on Women's Affairs were instituted in There were a few null value cases because of 0 DI request. ii The Ministry of Culture & Tourism, The Cultural Properties Administration, The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, etc. 22

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