Fixing the digitalized social service

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Fixing the digitalized social service

The electronic social security system that went online from September 6 — which was touted as Korea’s advanced and digitalized welfare infrastructure — has been malfunctioning. As civil servants and workers at social welfare facilities across the country have been having trouble using the digitalized system for nearly two months, it causes a critical delay in providing social benefits to those who need them. The impasse had been lambasted by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle during a legislative audit of the Ministry of Health and Welfare last week.

The digitalized system simplified the existing five social benefit categories for 22 million low-income, disabled and senior citizens, as well as for recipients of childcare and medical care to three categories.

The digitalization project at a cost of 12.2 billion won ($8.5 million) was assigned to a consortium of large company LG CNS (with a 50 percent stake) and smaller IT firms KI &T (a 30 percent stake), and VTW (a 20 percent stake) in April 2020.

But the system was reported to have more than 100,000 errors for over a month. The biggest blame goes to hasty construction of the system and a slack trial process. The programmers asked the government to put off the operation to November from September, citing a delay in developing the program and insufficient trial period, but the Ministry of Health and Welfare pressed ahead with it.

The project was also criticized for a mass exodus of programmers and over-the-top outsourcing. Out of 343 programmers, a whopping 307 left their companies. As a result, the three members of the winning consortium had to outsource their work to 53 contractors to stay on schedule.

The system breakdown could last until November. Civilians could be disadvantaged if the malfunction lasts long. The government vowed to be more attentive toward the underprivileged after a mother and two middle-aged daughters committed suicide due to lack of a digitalized welfare service system. But the ministry — oversized yet incapable — can hardly be trusted. The ministry must fix the system fast and make sure no disadvantages go to the needy.
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