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[Editorial] Per-capita Productivity of Civil Servants

Posted May. 02, 2008 03:06,   


For the last five years, 148 of 246 municipalities saw their populations decrease. However, 145 of them actually had an increase in the number of public officials even when a decrease is natural. Civil servants in the central government increased by 2.4 percent whereas those in local governments increased by 13.8 percent. Only half (53.5 percent) of the increase are assigned to tasks directly linked to the people’s livelihood such as welfare, fighting fire and disaster prevention. The rest, over 10,000, handle work not directly related to the people’s daily lives, such as planning and coordinating, and local council support.

The Ministry of Public Administration and Security said it would cut personnel expenses as much as 10 percent by the end of the year by reducing the number of civil servants in municipalities. It plans to support local governments’ budget via meritocratic incentives. The cut would be a monumental move if it can overcome opposition by the local governments and achieve its goal at the same time.

The government says the total number of public servants is 960,000 but according to the OECD standard which includes soldiers, temporary civil servants, those working for private organizations aided by public funds, the number jumps to 2.44 million, accounting for 5.03 percent of the total population. The percentage in Japan, whose population is three times larger than that of Korea, is yet lower than here at 3.5 percent.

The people are shouldering the heavy burden of paying public officers’ wages. For the last five years, urban households saw their income increased by 31 percent and their tax burden by 53 percent. National debt got bigger by an additional 150 trillion won during the same period. A rise in the number of civil servants means unnecessary regulations in greater numbers. Businesses spend a great deal of their energy in persuading public officials. The reason why advanced countries are pursuing small governments is that a big government is the main culprit of inefficiency in running the nation.

Korean government workers are far less competitive than their foreign counterparts. According to the IMD of Switzerland, last year Korea ranked 31st among 55 countries in terms of administrative efficiency. Before the Roh Moo-hyun government, Korea’s standing was 26th among 49 countries. The Government Efficiency Index from 2000 to 2005 by the World Bank, Korea was far below the average (1.5), almost at the bottom.

Economics Professor Choi Kwang at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies said “Because civil servants manage tax payers’ money rather than their own and they are not held responsible for the results, they do not do their best in what they do. Under these circumstances, government failure is inevitable unless input and output on public services are carefully calculated.” For a small government to function properly, improving productivity of public servants is as important as downsizing the government.