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Worrying Signs of Big Government

Posted March. 24, 2003 21:43,   


Although only one month has passed since the inauguration of ‘participatory government’ in Korea, there has been a sharp ‘inflationary trend’ found in the number of government officials and office-holding posts.

Since its inauguration, the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs, in charge of managing government officials, has received more than 3,000 documents from government agencies asking an increase in staff members. In addition, six new ministerial-level positions including presidential secretariats have been already installed.

Chung Wa Dae has sharply increased its number of staff, heralded by President Roh Moo-hyun’s remark that he has never promised to pursue small government. And, each government agency is now trying to inflate its size in preparation for widely anticipated government reorganization around next year.

A flood of applications calling for an increase in government officials: After Chung Wa Dae increased its staff by as many as 93 members, each government agency has been rushing in submitting applications calling for a staff increase.

For example, since the inauguration of the new government, the Korean National Railroad (KNR) has demanded a staff increase in the organization by more than 2,000, and another five government agencies including the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry have asked for an additional 1,000 new members in total. The Foreign Affairs Ministry will submit a new application for an additional staff increase.

An official with the Government Administration and Home Affairs Ministry said, “It is expected that government agencies that have yet to present a staff increase applications will demand their share of increases sooner or later. If the requested number increase that was made during the Government Transitional Committee’s briefings is added, the total increase in the number of government officials will exceed at least 10,000.

Meanwhile, from as early as next month, ministers will be allowed to have up to three policy aides, and which will lead to driving up the number increase in government officials.

The number of government officials was 935,759 at the end of 1997. After the Kim Dae jung government cut the number of government officials as part of government reform, the number has continuously decreased to 875,672 in 1999, 869,676 in 2000, and 868,120 in 2001, respectively. However, because of last year’s addition of teachers and post deliverymen to the number of public officials, the number stands at 904,203 as of the end of February this year.

The participatory government created four more ministerial or vice-ministerial-level government posts in the president’s secretarial offices including ministerial-level positions, policy director and aide for national security and vice ministerial-level posts, the aide for personnel management and chief director of the public participation agency an compared to the previous government.

In addition, secretary general of the national security committee and president of the National Museum of Korea were upgraded by a notch to a vice ministerial-level from the first grade government official status. And chairmen of the special committee for administration reform and for balanced national development that will be established under the direct control of President will be named ministers.

There are signs of a continuous inflationary trend in ministerial and vice ministerial posts as the state affairs management office is considering creating one or two more vice ministerial-level posts in the agency.

Meanwhile, President Roh March 24 put a brake on inflationary trends in the number of government officials at an operation briefing of the Government Administration and Home Affairs Ministry by saying, “Although I pursue an efficient administration, rather than a small one, it is undesirable that the government agencies unreasonably increase their number of officials.”

An official with the Government Administration and Home Affairs Ministry said, “It seems that each government agency failed to fully understand the President’s intention of running an efficient government. The Ministry will try to curb an unreasonable increase in government officials by carrying out a stricter review on applications for staff increases.

Hyun-Doo Lee ruchi@donga.com