Setting the Public Record Straight

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Setting the Public Record Straight

Democracy has evolved with developments in keeping public records and archives. But even the absolute rulers of the medieval era admitted that they should "be afraid of the historical recordings."

History survives through records. The importance of records and archives helps us understand our past.

During the Chosun Dynasty in Korea, historic records were kept by the courtiers specialized in writing daily state affairs.

When the modern democracy rose after the French Revolution, the issue of recording history was also discussed. After the revolution, an order was issued to administer public records fairly and allow the public access those records.

The current South Korean government has not achieved the level of openness with regard to keeping historic records.

Although it has been referred to as a backward country in terms of its management of records and archives, the government of modern Korea never considered it a virtue or duty to keep the records of decision-making processes or the results of major government policies.

The Record Act law on records and archive management of public institutions, which was enacted at the beginning of this year, was an extraordinary step toward changing traditional practices. I believed that fair management of public records and archives is the only way to expose errors of the past and the abuses under the authoritarian regimes. It is also necessary to further the goal of making government more transparent, such as in most democratic societies. The act includes a system that requires the government to keep and register records of its decision-making processes and outcomes.

In addition, the law also provides archivists with the power to create a fair and impartial system of managing records. The law seems to show some resolve on the part of the government to respect the importance of a historical record.

Resistance and opposition by those who oppose to transparent government is against the Record Act. When citizens'' organizations initiated a public movement to allow public to access to the records of expense accounts, most public institutions voiced strong opposition. Perhaps those institutions felt they were losing their administrative rights by allowing the public to scrutinize their records. Yet they should understand that, in a democracy, such a practice is both necessary and prudent. The government recently moved to revise the enforcement of the Record Act. Accordingly, the government publicized the revision proposal through the November 3 issue of the government gazette. Currently, the proposal is under review of the Government Legislation Agency. The proposal includes plans to postpone the registration system of the records and archives and to educate existing public servants at the Government Archives & Records Service to specialize in professional archiving activities.

This revision proposal could seriously damage the original intent of the law. The revision intends to postpone the enforcement of the core system of the law for three years. Moreover, the proposal will undoubtedly allow existing public servants to take charge of records and archives management. The government will thus exclude experts and specialists who completed post-graduate courses in the area.

We have already seen many well-intentioned government policies, which got off a good start, but ended dismally. How can the government win public trust after its promise to administer public records and archives fairly and professionally is called into question by its move to revise the enforcement of Record Act? The government should be aware that their recent attempt to revise the enforcement of the Record Act is an obstacle blocking the way towards democracy. It is time for the government to pay more attention to the warning: "Be Aware of the History."
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