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Role of Public Servants Should Be Changed

Posted January. 04, 2008 03:02,   


President-elect Lee Myung-bak said at the beginning of the New Year that we must create a new government system appropriate for the 21st Century, pinpointing that Japan already abolished the Ministry of Finance. It is true but it is important to note that a reshuffle of government bodies is essentially meaningless unless the roles of government officials are changed. This is like changing hardware without upgrading software.

Although Kim Jong-seok, president of the Korea Economic Research Institute, proposed the introduction of the regulation guillotine system to President-elect Lee while advising him on deregulation, this cannot be a solution, either. Unless the nature and function of public service personnel is changed, it will be difficult to root out unnecessary restrictions. Unless the unethical organizational culture of the public sector is changed and public servants cease to rule over the people as “grantors” or “deciders” while stop meddling in trifle matters, bureaucratic regulations will not be stamped out.

Few government officials even make unnecessary regulations to maintain their posts or to make excuses for their employment. This is well illustrated in the statistics of the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry. As the number of central government employees, which stood at 562,373 at the end of 2002, reached 590,169 at the end of 2006, the number of regulations also jumped from 7,723 to 8,083.

CEO-turned politician Lee is more aware of the situation than anyone else. During an interview in December 2006, Lee said, “Regulations on businesses will not be relaxed since the number of public servants has increased. Rather than the five trillion won spent on the government employees, I’m more worried about tens of trillions of won that will be lost while they drag down national competitiveness by interfering with corporate matters.”

“When my company was launching a shipbuilding business, the government even tried to impose the same tax rate levied on public bathhouses to the company because a dock, where water can be contained to make ships float, was unrelated to any of the classified industries,” Lee added.

The role of public servants should be changed. Many of the government employees, who have been responsible for enforcing regulations, should be either laid off or take the new role of “servants.” Government officials should play a pivotal role in the government instead of tormenting the market and the people with numerous regulations. If the new administration takes no action on the oppressive and authoritarian public servants, the government will likely fail to reform itself and end up speaking empty words. The future of Korea will not be bright when 60 to 70 percent of young people prepare for a civil-service exam in hopes of securing a lifelong job.