‘E-jiwon,’ President Roh’s legacy

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‘E-jiwon,’ President Roh’s legacy

The late President Roh Moo-hyun was a devoted fan of systems. He thought systemically and had professional knowledge of information technology. After his legislative election defeat in 1992, he put his time and effort into computer programing, producing a program to manage contacts and schedules. Based on it, he completed “Knowhow 2000” in 1998, which combined a contacts database, accounting functions and an instant messaging service.

After he became president, his interest in IT systems continued. He wanted to create a more effective administration system for the presidential office that would allow for the accumulation of know-how. He put together a development team and led meetings, and in the late autumn of his first year in the Blue House, he created the prototype.

The spring of 2004 was a cruel time for Roh. The National Assembly approved a motion to impeach him, and he was suspended from his duties as president. During the two-month period he was forced out of politics, he refined the Blue House’s computer system. Around the same time, the Segye Ilbo ran a series of reports titled “A country without records.” The series criticized past administrations for not leaving historical records.

Agreeing with the theme, Roh decided to include a record-management system in the presidential office’s computer system. Kim Hyung-gu, a JTBC journalist who participated in the reporting at the time, remembered that an unofficial task force was created in the Blue House soon after the Segye series and the Records Management Innovation Committee was launched a short time later.

After returning to work, Roh upgraded the initial version of his system and in November 2004, “e-jiwon,” which stood for “Electronic Information Garden,” was launched.

Roh also created a legal framework to systemically produce, categorize and store national records. The Act on the Management of Presidential Archives was established in 2007. Roh carefully nurtured e-jiwon. “He made the Blue House workers use it and submitted their opinions on how to improve the system,” said professor Rim Chun-taek of Kaist, who worked at the Blue House at the time. “About 1,000 ideas were provided and 200 of them came from Roh.”

Rim said that Roh treated e-jiwon as his “other self.”

In the world of electronic government systems, e-jiwon was an unrivaled system. According to Jeon Jin-han, head of the Center for Freedom of Information and Transparent Society, it was the first government information management system that recorded the entire process of decision making and implementation. In the United Nations’ list of electronic government systems, Korea was ranked second during the Roh administration, up from its previous ranking of 15th.

The administrations before Roh left 330,000 records. Roh’s five-year presidency created 8.25 million records.

Concerns, however, rose inside the Blue House about the extraordinary functions of e-jiwon, which made it hard to delete any information from the system without a trace. Some worried that some records could bring about undesirable reactions after Roh’s presidency ended, concerns that proved accurate.

Roh had a special affection for e-jiwon. He even filed a patent for the system, along with the four other developers. He treated it with the kind of love parents have for their child. After his presidency ended, he even copied the system and took it to his hometown.

A recent investigation into the records of Roh’s alleged disavowal of the Northern Limit Line during his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il revealed some suspicious circumstances. With Roh’s in-depth understandings of the system, his transfer of the administration’s records into the Presidential Archive revealed more interventions than necessary. There were signs that he had agonized about what to do with the records he did not want to leave behind. He knew that classifying some information as secret and transferring it to the Archives was not as secure as e-jiwon.

The latest conflict surrounding the NLL records must not end simply as political strife. The time has come for us to change the direction of this controversy to pay more attention to strengthening the management of state records.

We have experienced the explosive power of presidential records. The ruling and opposition parties have both learned a lesson that government records must not be politicized. The IT system that the Roh administration created was the “historical records 1.0.” Now, we must begin the era of “historical records 2.0” by properly managing governance records.

The independence of the National Archives of Korea must be strengthened to the level of the National Human Rights Commission. We know that the future requires the ability for the next generation to see us as we are today.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Kyu-youn
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