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2016-10-13 15:39
By Choi Ha-young

While writing the article “Is your curry ethical?” about two Bangladeshi chefs’ unethical labor conditions on Oct. 5, The Korea Times wanted to check for more legal loopholes regarding the E-7 visa system, which is issued to workers in 85 job categories including researchers, engineers, nurses, interpreters and tourism experts.

The newspaper requested information disclosure on this issue from the relevant government authorities; the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL), Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the Korea Immigration Service (KIS) under the MOJ. By using the government website open.go.kr, citizens can request to see government documents and statistics as long as they are not confidential. Upon request, they are obliged to reply within two weeks.

On Sept. 28, The Korea Times requested documents that the MOJ and KIS’s regional branches exchanged about the employment of foreign chefs. An MOJ official replied via a phone call on Oct. 10, just before the deadline of the request. “This document is not worth looking at. It won’t be helpful for your reporting,” he judged oddly. He even suggested withdrawing the request, adding that he would help with future reporting. A day later, he contacted The Korea Times again asking for the request to be withdrawn. The newspaper declined.

The MOEL was not much different. The newspaper tried to determine labor law violations according to visa types, kinds of jobs and foreign workers’ nationalities. However, according to the MOEL such information was “nonexistent.”

The MOEL said that labor supervisors under the ministry, who make on-site inspections about labor law violations, check such things during inspections but do not collect data about them. When asked for a document to be created with these details, the ministry refused. But according to the Official Information Disclosure Act, an organization can reject a citizen’s request to create such a document only when it interferes greatly with its operations.

Many reporters and citizens share similar experiences. A reporter from a local newspaper once requested an internal document from the police. The request was rejected, so he filed an objection and the document was immediately made available.

“Government officials are much kinder to you because you are a journalist,” said a university student who once requested information about tuition fees. “The system is useless. The officials are only kind to influential people. They totally ignore students,” he said.

The information disclosure service is part of President Park Geun-hye’s policy named Government 3.0 to make the decision-making process transparent. The government boasts that state organizations have revealed a lot of information on their website.

However, what users can immediately see on the websites is valueless information ― press releases, ministers’ welcoming speeches and personnel transfers, which seems far from being transparent. What people need is meaningful information to shed light on blind spots in society and root out injustice.


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