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Too Many Officials, Too Few Posts

Posted November. 26, 2005 07:19,   


An economy ministry director with a family name of Kim recently returned to his office after being dispatched to a task force consisting of human resources from varied ministries last year. Director Kim admitted, “I went to a fitness club in the morning and went on a picnic with my family on weekends. It was the most comfortable time since I became a public official.”

He added, “When dispatched to another office, the official does not have to face an inspection, nor care about whether the National Assembly is convened or not. He can just leave the office on 6 o’clock. That’s why people want to be dispatched to other offices, even though they have to be careful not to get on nerves of higher ranking officials.”

The public officials who are sent to a variety of committees, task forces, local autonomous entities, or sub-organizations and who are categorized as “special officials” are called ‘satellites’ in officialdom.

Many of them are pushed to a satellite role by ministries that are looking to get rid of redundant personnel. The substantial number of public officials who get paid for just killing time without displaying their full abilities is considered one of the most inefficient aspects of officialdom.

The more committees, the more satellites-

An official at the Ministry of Construction and Transportation who returned to his office after joining a committee last year said, “Since the launch of President Roh’s government, the increase in the number of new committees has resulted in more chances to “legally” go out.”

He added, “Practical administrative works are done by the ministries in charge, and committees are just putting together submitted reports. The work load is only half that of my original position in the ministry.”

The Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs said the number of public officials who are dispatched as special officials from 43 government agencies stood at 868 as of the end of July, 85.9% up from 467 at the end of 1999.

The surge in satellite officials can be partly attributed to the fact that many different committees and task forces have cropped up since President Roh took office.

The central ministries are currently operating a total of 60 committees, including 12 under the umbrella of Cheong Wa Dae, the presidential office, 12 under the prime minister, and 36 under the ministries. It is the 60 committees that have the satellite officials.

In particular, the number of positions for high ranking officials from grades one to three is in short supply, so the ministries are churning out satellite officials to reserve positions.

An official in charge of personnel management in the economy ministry said, “Because of the shortage in positions for first-time director or first grade official, we send them to other offices as a rule. On the other hand, we do not have sufficient forth or fifth grade officials who are charged with practical work, so we cannot comply with other offices’ request to dispatch them.”

In regard to the surge in the number of committees, an official at the Office for Government Policy Coordination explained, “Establishing a new national agenda at an individual ministerial level has its limits, so the government is forming committees to work on the agenda.”

Fears of excess bureaucracy and lower efficiency-

Administrative experts pointed out that it is difficult to resolve the satellite officials issue at a time when the career public official system is being retained.

The experts added that public official society will bulge in size, but become increasingly inefficient if the redundant work force concentrated on the high ranking positions remains in place while the total number of pubic officials keeps increasing.

Ha Yeon-sup, a professor of public administration at Yonsei University, suggested that instead of launching additional committees or task forces, the regular organization should take on the work. But if necessary, the number of officials who work less and stick to the post should be minimized by sending most qualified officials to the right positions.

Since the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs also reached the conclusion that there are too many dispatched officials, the ministry is working on measures for 236 officials, 27.1% of the 868 satellite officials, to return to their original positions or shift to regular officials.

The ministry official explained, “Our ministry is reducing dispatching officials to sub-research organizations or local autonomous entities. We also plan to return the dispatched special officials as soon as the related project is completed or the workload is reduced.”

As a result of successive returns of the satellites, ministries are worrying about possible chaos in personnel management.

An official of personnel management at a central ministry said, “There are already many director-level officials on the waiting list for a position, so it is really difficult to figure out how to handle the returning director-level officials. We cannot help but delay promotions for the time being.”