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Number of Local Civil Servants Increases Despite Population Drop

Number of Local Civil Servants Increases Despite Population Drop

Posted March. 29, 2007 07:49,   


The most sparsely populated city or county among the nation’s 230 lower-level local governments, excluding islands, turned out to be Yangyang County in North Gyeongsang Province with a population of 19,697. In 1974, there were up to 70,000 residents in the county, but most of them have left in pursuit of modernized living conditions, and the number of inhabitants has shrunk to less than a third in 32 years.

However, the number of civil servants, which marked some 300 in the 1970s, has steadily increased year by year, and reached 488 as of the end of last year. As many as 77 more employees have joined the local government in only three years since 2003.

As the county found the contradictory situation problematic, it initiated a “3-1 campaign,” by which all civil servants are mandated to introduce a new household into the county every year in order to swell the population. For those who produce good results, the county is set to offer incentives, including privileges in personnel affairs, by the end of the year.

Jeong (64), who runs a pepper farm in Yangyang, said, “I don’t understand the reason why we have more officials while people are leaving.”

The situation in Uiryeong County, the least densely inhabited municipal unit in South Gyeongsang Province, is not much different. Compared with 1968, when there were 297 local government workers serving 100,649 residents, there are now 565 working for 30,988 citizens.

Similarly, in the case of Busan Metropolitan City, the number of public servants, including those working for subordinate districts, increased by 1,932 in the last five years since 2001, while the population has dropped by 22,000 to 38,000 annually over the same period.

The provinces of Gangwon and South Jeolla, which are also marking declines in population, have hired more staff during the last five years as well—1,915 and 1,465, respectively.

Civil servant increase rate higher than quintuple the population rate-

After the financial crisis, numerous local government officials were laid off. During the massive restructuring in 1998, 35,100 employees, or 20 percent of staff members left their jobs, and this trend continued until 2001, when the Kim Dae-jung administration was nearing its end.

The trend reversed in 2002, and the number of civil servants has escalated by 37,029 from 242,797 in 2001 to 279,826 in 2006. This means that local governments have grown by 15.3 percent in personnel, a rate higher than five times that of the national population increase rate of 2.8 percent during the same period.

On average, some 7,400 officials have been newly employed by local offices, and if this trend is to continue, the size of staff is set to outpace the number in two years working before the financial crisis in 1997 (291,673). In fact, the number of civil servants in Uiryeong City decreased to 470 until 2000, but 95 more were hired in the next six years, restoring the personnel population size to the level before the financial crisis.

It is expected that this tendency will be kept up in the future. This is because municipalities no longer have to rely on the approval of the Ministry of Government of Home Affairs to expand the size of their regular staff as they did until last year. Starting this year, they can have autonomy over this matter as long as they can keep the total sum of salaries under the limits set by MOGAHA.

Jeong Su-hyeon, head of the Busan City’s Organizational Management Division, said, “In terms of easing unemployment among the youth and creating more jobs, it is a correct policy to increase civil servants, but when it comes to the reduced administrative needs due to the decreasing population, it would be wrong.”

Quality of administrative service lingers-

Authorities in local governments commonly claim that such increases in personnel are to reinforce administrative services, and that many of the new workers are to serve in fields such as welfare and firefighting.

An official of Ulsan Metropolitan City said, “(The reason why the number of civil servants has increased by 576 compared to 1997) is because there were too few fire fighters allotted to our city when we were separating from South Gyeongsang Province in 1997. 70% of the increased personnel are fire fighters.”

According to MOGAHA, however, among the 661 local government workers, newly recruited by Ulsan and its subordinate district offices between 2002 and 2006, only 141 or 21.3 percent of them were firefighters.

During the period of four years between 2002 and 2006, the number of regular personnel for social welfare services and fire services jumped by 1,259 and 4,902 each. The sum of these two fields accounted for only 19.4 percent of the newly employed 31,685 local civil servants.

Citizens have been complaining that the sensory quality of the administrative service has not been improved at all, despite the explanation of the central and local governments.

Kim Song-won, director of Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice at Incheon, said, “Although the number of Incheon’s civil-service employees surged by 1,000 in four years, administration service has remained stagnant. Most local governments have been expanding their staffs without in-depth assessments of administrative needs.”

“The number of public servants has increased, but many of the new employment posts were neither urgent nor necessary,” said Kim Tae-il, a professor of public administration at Korea University, in a forum held at the Graduate School of Public Administration at Seoul National University on March 26.

An official in MOGAHA argued, “If local government heads really hope to build up their competitiveness, they would first need to restructure their organizations and reshuffle their personnel for efficiency before discharging incompetent officials which has grown to be a trend in vogue recently.”